The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro


Early January, Year Ten.

My phone pings announcing a text. It's from Tony.


Thank you, Tony, for that expression of concern and sympathy. I thought you were supposed to be my boyfriend.

Still, I suppose it was my own silly fault.

"Twelfth Night, tonight," Dad remarks as we are having our evening meal. "Time to take the decorations down."

He's looking at me. I suppose that means I've been volunteered to help.

"Just in time," says Mum.

Dad and I have blank looks on our faces. What does she mean? We always take the Christmas decorations down on Twelfth Night.

"You two have forgotten, haven't you?"

I raise an eyebrow at Dad, and he raises one to me. We must be thinking the same thing. If we've forgotten something, how would we know we've forgotten it?

Mum tuts before she enlightens us.

"We've got the dog for a fortnight, starting tomorrow. I don't want him getting tangled up in the decorations."

By 'the dog', Mum means the one belonging to Mrs Next Door. He's a snuffly old bulldog. We often look after him when she goes on holiday or somewhere else she can't take him. We haven't had him overnight, though, since about this time last year. I suppose she's off to catch some winter sun. She likes to go to Torridmolinos on the Costa del Sol.

We must still have blank looks on our faces.

"She's off to Torremolinos again. She asked us about looking after the dog six months ago," Mum states.

Mum doesn't expect us to remember from six months ago, surely? At lot of things have happened in six months. I've got a boyfriend for one. Or at least I think I have. I sometimes wonder. He can be a bit of a challenge.

"Oh," Dad manages in reply before thinking of something else. "Er, you're not expecting me to take it for walks are you?"

"Yes, mister. You could do with the exercise."

I make the mistake of smiling at Dad's discomfort. Mum notices.

"You can take your turn as well. It'll get you away for a bit from playing on your computer and fiddling with your phone. In fact, it might be a nice for you both to go occasionally. Give you some time together."

I can see Dad gearing up to say that's a good idea, but he doesn't get the chance to speak. Mum hasn't finished issuing instructions to me yet.

"Will you fetch the dog in the morning before school, please?"

"S'pose so," I mumble.

"'Yes, will do'," snaps Mum.

Dad and I glance at each other but keep silence. What's that phrase? 'Only pick the fights you think you have a chance of winning'.

When we have finished our meal, Mum goes off to watch one of her programmes on the telly. Dad and I take cover in the kitchen and do the washing up.

"Mum was in a strop with us over the dog. What was that about?" I ask.

"Apart from us forgetting we've got him this next two weeks? She's probably letting it be known that we have to do our share of looking after him this time. If you remember, last time the dog was here, I was on that company training course and you, you'd been off school, ill or something, and had to work hard to catch up in time for some assessment. Your mum had to look after you and the dog!"

"It was only a week. And I got through the test," I object.

"Yes, you did. But that's it. Last time was a week, this time it's two."

When we have finished the washing up, Dad and I start taking down the Christmas decorations. Mum comes to help when her programme has finished.

I should have known it would be more than just collecting the dog from next door.

First, I have to carry his bed round to our house, along with poo bags, a selection of towels and some dog shampoo.

"He has a habit of rolling in something nasty if you don't watch him," says Mrs Next Door as she hands over the shampoo. "Use this if you need to bath him."

My second trip is for his fortnight's supply of dog food, biscuit mixer and a box of treats. Not forgetting the dog bowls. I make notes of how much and what food he gets at various times of the day.

"Don't forget to make sure he always has water," I hear as I leave the house with all the supplies.

Finally I go to fetch the dog himself.

"It's one of those retractable leads," Mrs Next Door says as she hands me the dog's collar and lead. "It allows him a bit more freedom to run around in places like the park but still be under control."

She demonstrates how the lead works and how it can be locked at any length if required. She talks to the dog as I crouch down to put on his collar and lead.

"Now, Spencer. You be a good boy and behave yourself while you are on holiday."

The dog is lying on the floor and doesn't attempt to get up when I put his collar on. He just lies there. From the look he gives me, I guess what he is thinking.

'Misbehave? That takes effort!'

I stand up.

"Come on, Spencer. Let's get you round to see Mum," I say with a tug on the lead to get him started. He struggles to his feet and as we turn to leave, I wish Mrs Next Door a good holiday.

"Thank you, dear," she replies then thinks of something else. "Oh, one thing. Don't let him pick up speed."

We manage no more than an amble on the way round to my house. I don't think the dog has got a rush in him. I can't imagine him ever picking up speed.

Messing about fetching the dog means I am later than usual getting to school. I just manage to avoid being marked late for my first lesson.

"You were cutting it fine this morning," Tony says when he catches up with me at break. "Late getting up? I can't imagine your mum allowed that!"

Tony knows Mum makes me get up in time for school even during the holidays. She says it's better to stick to the routine. Mum notices if I fall asleep again after my alarm goes off and don't appear at breakfast time. Not that there is any way I would risk missing breakfast!

"Yeah. I had to fetch the dog from next door. He's stopping with us for the next two weeks."

I explain that it took me three trips to get him and all his stuff.

"It took five minutes just to walk him round to our place. He's not very energetic."

Tony smiles that cute smile he does when he is trying to wind me up.

"So you'll be late every day for the next fortnight," he says.


"If you have to take him out for a walk before school, you'd better set your alarm earlier."

I am about to say that Dad might take him but realise Dad already gets up at some unmentionable hour to go to work.


Tony comes with me to my house after school. Mum dishes out instructions as soon as we walk through the door.

"You'd better take the dog for his walk now, before you do your homework. Don't forget it starts to get dark just after four. The lead and poo bags are on the side there." Mum points in their general direction.

"I'll put the kettle on for when you get back," she adds before I can ask if we can have a cup of tea first.

I grab the lead and collar and bend down to the dog who looks half asleep in his basket. I slip the collar over his head, then stand up.

"Come on, walkies," I tell him and tug on the lead to make sure he's got the message.

"Are you going to introduce me?" Tony asks when we leave the house. I can tell he is more amused than offended. He crouches down to get a better look at the dog and allow the dog to get his scent.

"He's called Spencer."

"That ' s subtle," Tony says as he stands up again.

"Uh ? "

"Well, he's a Churchill dog."

"What? You mean like that ad on telly for insurance?" I ask although I can't see any connection to the name.

"No. Not that Churchill. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister during World War Two. He was often likened to a bulldog."

"Oh, erm, yes," I concede. "But the dog's not called Winston."

"Exactly. Churchill's middle name was Spencer. He used it when writing."

"Oh. I see." How does Tony know all this stuff?

While we are talking, Spencer takes advantage of his retractable lead, wanders on to our patch of lawn and cocks his leg for a pee. He seems to go on for ever. So long that he gets tired of standing on three legs. He drops his leg and does a sort of crouch while he finishes.

"Didn't Mum take you out earlier?" I ask the dog. Of course I get no reply, just a blank look.

I hear Tony chuckle as Spencer waddles back to us.

"What's so funny?"

"Your grass is always a bit yellow. It might die back at first but after it rains, I bet it comes back nice and green where the dog has peed. You'd best try to get him to piss in different place each time you let him out."

We take the dog to the park. The lead allows him to snuffle along, following any scent he finds without Tony and I having to leave the paths. The most interesting smells seem to be up by the tennis courts, near the gate into the school grounds.

Needless to say, the dog has a dump while we are in the park. I pick it up using a poo bag. Eew! Gross! Tony reminds me that it is less gross than leaving it for people to tread in or worse. If I had had thoughts about us getting a dog, not any more. At least there are plenty of dog waste bins dotted about the park, so I don't have to carry the bag home with me.

Mum was right. It is getting dark when leave the park. It's taken that long for the dog to plod his way round. Tony decides to go home after we get to my house. He doesn't even stop for a cup of tea. I shall have to do my homework on my own.

"Has the dog been out?" Dad asks while we are having our evening meal.

"Tony and I took him out after school," I reply. "He peed for ages on our lawn then had a dump in the park."

"He was out earlier in the day," Mum mumbles. She looks a bit guilty. Did she forget to let Spencer out after lunch and that's why he was so long on the lawn?

"I suppose I'll have to take him last thing every night before bed," Dad says. "Can you take him for a quick run around the block every morning before school, please lad?"

"Okay, I guessed I would cop for that," I acknowledge. "Not that there will be anything quick about it. Spencer's only got two speeds. Dead slow and stop."

"He's not that bad. Is he?"

I slowly nod my head in confirmation.

I am in the kitchen getting a glass of water when Dad comes in from his walk with Spencer.

"I see what you mean about him being slow," he says. "We seem to have been out for ages."

Dad takes the lead off the dog and puts it on the table.

"I don't like that retractable lead. You can't feel how far away the dog is. I was worried about him wandering off the footpath into the road and me not realising. It ' s dark out tonight and you know how bad the street lights are around here. If he did get on the road he might not be seen by any passing traffic. You know how long a fixed lead is and can tell by the amount of slack where the dog is without having to look."

"You can set it to a fixed length, you know, Dad."

"I tried that but the clutch seems a bit unreliable. Watch it, especially if it's still dark in the morning when you take him out. Tell you what, it's market day tomorrow. I might see if I can get a proper lead."

I top up my glass to take with me and am about to leave the room when Dad thinks of something else.

"You're going to love me for saying this but you'd better set your alarm a bit earlier so you have time to walk the dog before school."

I score a point by telling him that I have already done it.

Tony and I take a shorter route with the dog after school the next day. Apart from Spencer being such a plodder that taking him isn't exactly exciting, Tony doesn't want to miss out on his cup of tea before he goes home. That and one of the lemon bars we noticed that Mum had made earlier.

It also means that we get some stuff done before Tony has to go home.

After he has gone I manage to get the rest of my homework finished before mum calls me for our evening meal. As we are eating, Dad reports that he managed to get a new lead for the dog.

Later, Dad and I are watching something about cars on the telly. When it finishes, an advert for Churchill insurance comes on. It is the one with the dog on a skateboard.

"Can't imagine Spencer doing that," Dad says with a chuckle. "Which reminds me, it's time for his walk."

Dad gets up, fetches the new lead and puts it on the dog. He then gets his coat and they leave the house.

"That lead's much better," Dad says when they return. "I felt much more in control of what the dog was doing. He's strong though. Gives quite a pull when he gets to the end of the lead and expects he should be able to go further as if he was on the retractable."

I suppose a dog has got four wheel-drive.

In the morning, I use Dad's lead when I take Spencer out before school. I see what Dad meant about feeling more in control. You get better feedback of what the dog is doing.

"That insurance advert was on last night," I tell Tony at break time.

"The one on the skateboard?"

"Yeah, that one. Can you imagine Spencer doing that?"

"Not really. I expect the film was made using CGI." There is amusement in Tony's voice as he continues. "But it might be fun trying to teach him. Certainly more interesting than just plodding round the park with him. I haven't got a skateboard. Have you?"

"Yeah. I don't use in much though. I've never got the hang of doing any tricks and it's a faff putting on the protective gear."

After school, I dig out my board and take it with us to the park. Since I won't be trying any tricks myself, I don't bother with the pads and helmet.

"Don't try putting Spencer on the board yet," Tony says. "Let him get used to you having it with us and see you riding around on it. We can try him on it in a day or two."

The dog gives the board a cursory inspection and I scoot around on it for a while trying to demonstrate.

We settle into a routine. Mum looks after the dog during the day. Tony and I take him into the park after school. It's Dad's turn in the evening. I take him first thing in morning. Dad comes with me at the weekend.

Tony and I make some progress with our project. Spencer gets the hang of riding on the board but we haven't got him scooting along under his own power.

"I thought we might be able to get him standing on the board," Tony comments the first time Spencer climbs on without being cajoled. "I've seen videos of dogs happily riding surfboards. Apparently there is even a surfing competition for dogs."

"You're joking. Where?"

"Where do you think: California!"

Somehow, I'm not surprised.

There is a bit of a hiccup in the routine when Dad comes home from work one day looking decidedly under the weather.

"You don't look too clever. What's up?" Mum asks as Dad plonks himself into his chair.

"I don't know if it's something I've eaten, or if I've picked up some bug, but I've felt rough all afternoon. Got the trots, too."

Mum interrogates Dad about what he has eaten and if anyone else has been suffering either today or in the last couple of days. A possibly dodgy cream cake is implicated. Mum goes to find something to settle his stomach.

"Don't forget to drink plenty," Mum states as she gives him the medicine and a glass of water. "Are you going to want anything to eat, because the meal is nearly ready?"

Dad goes a bit greener at the thought.

"Not really. Not at the moment, thanks," he manages to reply.

Mum and I leave him looking a sorry sight and go and have our meal.

When we have finished and cleaned up, we go back into the other room. Dad is fast asleep in his chair. Spencer is lying, not at his feet, but on them. It's as though he has noticed Dad isn't feeling well and has taken up position to comfort him.

Dad surfaces after about half an hour.

"Do you feel like anything to eat now?" asks Mum. "I think there is some chicken soup in the freezer if you want."

Mum always says chicken soup is supposed to be good for recuperating invalids. Dad doesn't look too keen.

"You know what I'd like," he says. "A poached egg and a slice of toast with Marmite, please."

I could go with that as a light meal. The Marmite is full of vitamin B, and it will also help replace any salts Dad has lost through the trots.

When Dad's snack is ready, I get the lead to take Spencer for his evening walk. I think Dad needs the night off! As the dog stands up, Dad pats him on the head and thanks him for his care and attention.

The day before Spencer is due to go home is a Tuesday. Tony doesn't come home with me on Tuesdays as that is the day of his Scouts meeting.

Mum catches me as I am putting Spencer's lead on to take him out.

"While you are out, would you nip to the shop please and get a pint of milk and a small loaf for next door?" Mum goes on to point out that there won ' t be anything fresh in the house. Mrs Next Door actually gets back very late tonight. Too late to collect Spencer which is why he is staying with us.

I grab a bag for the groceries. I also pick up my skateboard. I want to have one last session with Spencer. He has so nearly got the hang of scooting himself along. He certainly seems to like riding the board. Tony says that's probably because it's less effort than walking.

In spite of it being January, it's warm so I take advantage of the setting sun to keep trying to teach Spencer his trick for as long as possible. Eventually, I have to give up as it is starting to get dark and I still need to go to the shop.

On the way back through the park, I am scooting on the board with the bag of groceries in one hand and the dog's lead in the other. Spencer is dragging on the lead as I am trying to go a bit faster than he would like. It's tricky keeping my balance on the board.

We are passing the tennis courts, when I glimpse something crossing the path in front of me heading in the direction of the school gate. I feel the lead go slack. Spencer comes running past me. Yes, running. And he is surprisingly quick.

Before I can think, the lead has jerked taught again, but in front of me. Being on the board and having the bag in my other hand, means I get pulled off balance by the power of the dog. The board goes from under me and I crash on the path. Knee first.

After the initial shock and my brain has got back in gear, I realise my knee is really painful. It also feels wrong as far as I can tell through my trousers. Sort of twisted. Stupid Boy! Should have worn my knee pads, shouldn't I! Looking around, Spencer is growling next to the school gate, unable to get under it.

While the dog is distracted, I check the contents of the bag. The loaf is a bit squashed, but the milk is okay. That's one advantage of plastic bottles.

The board is nearby. Fortunately, it has flipped over and landed wheels in the air. Otherwise it would have rolled down the hill and I doubt I could have found it as it is now getting pretty dark. I shuffle over to pick up the board —geez, that knee is painful — before calling for Spencer to come to me. I am ignored at first but when he does eventually respond he looks guilty. I think about standing up, but I don't think I can manage it, never mind make it home.

"Are you alright there, lad?" I hear from the direction of the school. I turn and through the gloom can see Mrs O'Reilly standing by the gate.

"Not really, Miss. I think I've busted my knee."

"You sound in pain. Do you want me to have a look at it?" the teacher asks as she comes through the gate.

"Please, Miss."

Spencer starts to growl at her as she comes nearer, but she tells him to shut up and he does.

Mrs O'Reilly runs her finger round her collar and pulls her necklace out on view. It is the one with her pentangle pendant.

"Concentrate on the star," she says. "It will help take your mind off the pain while I examine you."

When she crouches down, the pendant hangs free and swings from side to side. I watch it until she announces her diagnosis.

"I think you have dislocated your patella. We'd best get you to the health centre." She looks at her watch. "There should be someone there. Hopefully Doctor Payne is on duty. Have you got your phone with you?"

Fortunately I have, and it has survived my crash.

"Ring your mother. Tell her what has happened and to meet us at the health centre. While you're doing that, I'll bring my car down to the gate and we can get you loaded up, and I'll drive you round."

By the time I have finished being interrogated by Mum, Mrs O'Reilly has returned with her car.

"I called the health centre as I was walking to the car and told them to expect us," she tells me. "Doctor Payne is there, which is a good thing."


"She used to be in orthopaedics —that's bones, joints and muscles to you — at one of the acute hospitals in London. She couldn't get a promotion until her boss retired, but then they closed the hospital. Disillusioned, she decided to move into primary care and came here for a better quality of life. With luck she can sort you out and not have to send you on to A&E. The nearest one is Ripley."

"But that's miles!"

"Exactly! And a four hour wait when we get there, no doubt."

The teacher helps me stand and supports me as I hobble to her car. It is painful getting in and again when getting out. Spencer is instructed to stay in the car and guard it. He can look after the shopping and my board as well.

Thankfully, the doctor and a nurse are ready for me. Mum arrives at the same time, having walked from home. There is some muttering from people in the waiting room when I am seen straight away. Mrs O just glares at them and they shut up.

They manoeuvre me onto the examination couch. The doctor asks for the case history so I describe how I was injured. Mum tuts when I confess to not wearing my pads. Mrs O'Reilly also reports on her assessment. Then my trousers are cut off to avoid any further damage to my knee and to allow a full examination.

"Kneecaps are fun," Doctor Payne says as she pokes and prods. "They can require major surgery, but sometimes dislocations will go back easily or even on their own, although that's more likely for girls. Their bones are aligned differently and so the stress distribution is different too."

I don't know if the lecture was to inform or distract me, but the doctor prods a bit harder and I feel something give. The pain eases too.

"There, back in," the doctor says. "That was easy. I'm pleased I haven't lost my touch."

Everyone is relieved that I haven't had to go to A&E.

The nurse cleans up some gravel rash while the doctor goes rooting around in cupboard. She comes back with a strange looking piece of equipment she says is a knee brace.

"It's your lucky day. We don't normally have these, but a patient handed it in here instead of taking it back to Ripley hospital. I should have sent it on but kept it knowing it might be useful."

Before they fit the brace, they put one of those really tight stockings on my leg. Together they are supposed to keep everything in place until any torn tissue has a chance to mend. They don't want to risk my kneecap popping out again. I'll probably have to wear the brace for three weeks or so. I also get given some crutches to keep the weight off my leg when moving around. Finally, I am told to use an ice pack to help any swelling to go down and to keep the leg elevated as much as possible.

Mum has to spoil things by asking if I can go to school.

"Should be fine unless he has a lot of pain. In which case, you should bring him back here anyway," the doctor replies.

Mrs O'Reilly is trying not to laugh. She redeems herself by giving Mum, me and the dog a lift home.

"It was lucky you found him when you did," Mum says when she has thanked Mrs O'Reilly for her help.

"How did you happen to be in that part of the school grounds, Miss?" I ask.

"Oh. I was looking for Merkin — you know, the school cat — when I heard a thump and the dog growling at the gate. Then I heard you calling for him. I thought I'd better investigate as you sounded to be in pain."

It might be warm for the time of year, but Mum turns the heating up — 'in case I'm cold not wearing any trousers'. Geez, she's got it that warm I take my shirt off. No doubt Dad will turn it down again when he comes home and make some comment about too many pound notes flying out of the door every time it's opened. Mind you, I am thankful for the heat whenever she throws an ice pack at me and tells me to put it on my knee.

In the meantime, I crash with my feet up on the settee. It's more comfortable than sitting with my leg stretched out. Anyway, they did say at the health centre that I should try and keep my leg elevated as much as possible, at least for the first few days. I'm just getting settled when Spencer comes over and starts fussing around. He is not happy until he has managed to clamber up in the settee with me. Even then, he's not satisfied until he has positioned himself so that I have to rest my bad leg on him. He has that same air of concern he had when he was lying on Dad's feet the other day. I'm not sure the 'rents will approve of the dog being on the furniture, but he's making himself useful ensuring my leg is supported above the horizontal.

Mum's comment about not wearing any trousers makes me think of what I will have to wear to school tomorrow. My uniform trousers will be no good. I won't be able to get them over my brace. I'm not sure my sweat pants would be any better. I could go in shorts, I suppose, but mine are all fairly tight. It's a pity I haven't got any baggy shorts like those our friend Paul wears for PE.

Ooo! Now there's a thought.

I wonder if I can borrow them. It will be worth asking if only to see Paul's reaction. He's always accusing me of wanting to get in his pants. Tony can be in on the joke if I text him to ask Paul. They should both still be at Scouts.

I write a text telling Tony about smashing up my knee with all the details.

" so picture me, on the settee with my leg propped on Spencer and my shirt off…"

Of course, trying to get Tony all hot and bothered by telling him to imagine me in just my underpants gets me all hot and bothered.

I try to concentrate writing the next bit of my text, asking to borrow Paul's shorts, but thinking of Paul and his shorts only adds to my condition.

I am about to key my next phrase when there is a voice behind me.

"Hi, lad. How's it going?"

Oops, it's Dad. Thankfully I can send what I have written so far without being too obvious.

"Just been texting Tony" I reply.

Dad smiles and raises an eyebrow. He's not looking at my face. He's spotted the tent in my kecks.

"I was telling him about my accident." I try hard to be indignant. It doesn't stop me blushing.

My phone pings announcing a text. Dad hears it.

"What's he say?" he asks.


Thank you, Tony, for that expression of concern and sympathy. I thought you were supposed to be my boyfriend.

"Rolling on floor laughing," I translate for Dad.

Dad is trying hard not to laugh as he turns towards the kitchen.

"I'm going to mash. I'll bring you a cuppa," he says before adding something else.

"Just remember, lad. Texting leaves a trail."

Er? Did Dad just change the 'T' to an 'S' in front of 'text'?

© Copyright Pedro August 2022

For those that haven't seen it, here is a link to the Churchill Insurance advert: .


This story is part of the 2022 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Crashing Bore". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 17 Dec ember 2021 to 7 January 2022 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

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2022 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Crashing Bore

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