Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brian Clegg & Goldie

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Brian Clegg, and with me is Goldie. I write books for a living – popular science titles like A Brief History of Infinity, The God Effect and Before the Big Bang in which I explore interesting areas of science in a way that’s accessible to the general reader. I also edit the website. Goldie is a nine-year-old golden retriever.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Goldie doesn’t often get a chance to come out with me to a coffee shop, but she’s my companion as I work at home alone all day. Whenever I sit down with a coffee to have a break from research or writing, she likes to come and sit by me.

What's brewing?

On the rare occasions we do make it to a coffee shop it’s a skinny cappuccino (more often than not from Starbucks) – but I’m too lazy at home to mess around with a cappuccino maker, so it’s either a straight coffee from a cafetière, or something instant.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

I try to resist the goodies as much as possible – being an author is a pretty sedentary working life, and I need all the help I can get keeping the calories off. When I give in to temptation it tends to be either a yum yum or plain chocolate digestive biscuits.

Any treat for your dog on this occasion?

Goldie’s a touch over weight, so she should be on a strict diet – but it’s difficult to resist those hungry eyes, and if there’s no chocolate involved she usually gets a smidgen of what I’m eating.

How did Goldie come to be united with you?

Pretty straightforward – we bought her from a breeder. Our twins were six when we got Goldie, and it was really she who chose us. We went to sit in the pen with the puppies. One of them came and snuggled up behind one of our daughters and went to sleep – that was Goldie, and we really couldn’t choose any other puppy after that.

How did Goldie get her name?

It’s kind of obvious – we left the naming to the children, and I guess it could have turned out worse.

Does she have any influence on your writing?

Absolutely. I would recommend any writer to get a dog, because it’s very tempting to spend all your time in front of the keyboard, but having a dog means you have to go out for walks, and I get most of my best ideas on these dog walks. One of my books, Upgrade Me, was conceived in its entirety on a dog walk, and opens with a mention of taking Goldie out. I noticed how much easier she found it walking through a cold field with sharp thistles and nettles than I would without protective clothing, and it started me thinking about how we use different technologies to upgrade the basic human capabilities – the subject of the book.

What's an ordinary day like for Goldie?

It usually starts with her either barking to go outside, or coming up to the bedroom and thumping down on our bed. She’ll spend the day between the garden and the house, coming in to provide a bit of company, particularly during coffee breaks. There are usually two walks, sometimes three. She’s always excited when the children and my wife come home from school, so she can get even more attention.

Where is Goldie's favorite place to go for a walk?

We’ve recently moved from a country village to an urban setting, but if anything she prefers walking around the houses and streets. Having said that, we’re right on the edge of town, so our walks often end up back out in the fields. But pretty well any walk is good for her.

Who is your dog's best pet-pal?

Goldie has no doubt whatsoever that she’s a person, and really can’t be bothered much with other dogs. Pretty well any human being, though is special to her.

What's Goldie's best quality?

An ability to make us laugh. When you’re feeling down and she rolls over on her back to have her tummy tickled, she looks so ridiculous you can’t help smile, and the mood is lifted. Dogs should be prescribed by doctors.

What's your dog's proudest moment so far? Her most embarrassing?

I’m not sure Goldie can claim a lot of reason for pride – but her embarrassment is largely from chewing things up. When she was younger she was always chewing TV remotes. At the time, you couldn’t buy the remotes for the satellite box we used in stores, you had to get them direct from the satellite company. We asked for a replacement so often we felt we had to explain why. The next delivery we were sent not one remote but two, with a note saying that one was for us, and one for the dog.

What’s your dog’s favourite moments of the day?

Although her walks are certainly a highlight, the moment of the day Goldie treasures most is after her evening meal, when she’s given a rawhide dog chew. This treat is her idea of ultimate luxury. She holds it between her front paws and gnaws at it in canine heaven.

Would you recommend having a dog?

Absolutely – for all the inconvenience and cost, we wouldn’t be without Goldie. Apart from the company she gives me as someone who’s at home alone a lot, she has been with us as our children have been growing up and she has been a special part of their lives.

Brian Clegg is the author of A Brief History of Infinity, The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon, Light Years: The Extraordinary Story of Mankind’s Fascination with Light, Upgrade Me: Our Search for Human 2.0, and Before the Big Bang. He holds a physics degree from Cambridge and has written regular columns, features, and reviews for numerous magazines.

Follow Brian Clegg at, and visit his website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue