Very little work has been done on the laxative effects of fine leather car upholstery on Papillon puppies. This occurred to me as I was harvesting the poop fields out the back this morning, and it also occurred to me that it's funny how life goes. My thoughts returned, as they so often do, to the days of my youth, when there was more hair on my head than in my nostrils and getting your leg over wasn't just about a successful encounter with the bath.
I was about eighteen when I discovered teenage kicks, not, in those days, abnormally late development, and fell in with a gang of local tearaways who did exciting things like driving for an entire evening taking the first turn left and groppelling, which was a hugely satisfying activity in which you would drive up a hill until you came upon a struggling cyclist. Then you would slow down, point concernedly down the hill and say “excuse me, I think you dropped your groppel.” Ten to one the poor man would thank you breathlessly, dismount, and walk back down the hill scanning the road anxiously, while we all fell about laughing. (In a middle-aged attempt to entertain my surprised companions I tried it again in 1987 half-way up a mountain in Arizona, but it somehow wasn't the same, particularly when the victim, red-faced and cursing, suddenly appeared at the souvenir shop at the summit twenty minutes later. He didn't see me, but 44 is too old to be playing hide-and-seek among the Apache headdresses and snowing Grand Canyons.)
Oh, we were a wild bunch, I'm telling you. Two of us even drank beer. But every week or so the gang went missing, or slimed off, in the idiom of the day, and when I asked where they had been they looked shifty and said they had gone to 'Claire Anne's'. I naturally concluded that 'Claire Anne's' was a brothel (oh, alright, Des, a house of ill repute then) and, after a brief, savage and victorious battle with my conscience, announced that the next time they went there, I would come too. (Oh alright Des, “join them”).
The big night arrived, and I was in a state of high anticipation. I had polished my shoes, combed my hair, brushed my teeth till my gums bled and withdrawn the whole £14 from the Post Office. This was it. Tonight, this temptress Claire Anne (or could 'Claire Anne's', oh, depravity depravity, mean there were two of them?), all leopardskin and big hair, was going to take me among the red satin furnishings and make me a man.
I was unimpressed by the house, which, while a perfectly nice suburban property, didn't even have a red light over the door, but I wasn't too disappointed, having read enough News of the Worlds behind the bike shed in school to know that such discretion is often practised in these matters. Inside, however, disillusion struck.
No soft lighting.
Instead, a two bar electric fire, and in front of it, in hairy socks, a tweed skirt and a sensible cardigan, my future wife, a girl whose face at 16 was so spotty it made the surface of Mars look like an ad for Camay. (Mind you, I didn't so that well either, appearing in her diary that night as “some gink with glasses”. Mind you, she got to know me better later. Diary entry May 1963! “ Maurice Ahern is a lowdown despicable bum”).
Furthermore, she was knitting. Few things, let me tell you, banish libido as efficiently as the sight of acne in hairy socks knitting by an electric fire. We all sat around drinking tea and discussing Truth and Beauty and Is A Red Rose Red When It's Dark? while I thumbed bitterly through a book on Van Gogh (Have you seen his stuff? It's rubbish. No wonder he never sold any when he was alive).
Then, in a lull in the conversation while we pondered If a Tree Falls In the Forrest And Nobody Hears It, Does It Make a Sound?, she asked me if I liked Art, and I, obliging as always, lied that I did, and she said she had some lovely paintings in her room, and would I like to see them?
YES! IT'S HAPPENING! I thought, blushing furiously and following her to her room, where there were, in fact, pictures on the wall. She waited for me to say something about them. I waited for her to do something about me. Neither of us did, and after a brief silence we returned to the living room where the preposition that Elvis had sold out was being hotly debated, and drank more tea.
The point is, you see, that DOGS WERE NEVER MENTIONED. So how is it that I find myself, nearly forty years later, with dogs coming out of every orifice (of my house), scraping craps off the concrete with an oversized pusher and spoon?
Still, it could be worse. I see in the news that the first name of Cambodia's Ambassador to the UN is Ouch. I imagine that the obstetrician, attempting to put the patient at ease during a pelvic, asked “…..And what will you call it if it's a boy” and the rest is history.
There have been consolations too. The Dragon Lady has been known to utter the occasional kind word – there was one in 1989 – and has also produced two strange children, one of whom, the Awful Daughter Ingrid, has provided us with grandchildren. Sally, aged three, pointed at Ingrid in Bewley's the other day.
“You've got holes in your nose”, she said accusingly
“Everybody has. They're for air.”
“And snot!” bellowed Sally.
Oh, before I go, a joke.
A little girl and her granny are walking down the road where they come across a dog and bitch mating.
“What are they doing?” asks the little girl
“Oh,” says the granny, thinking quickly “The one on top has hurt his paw, and the other one is helping him to the vet's”.
“Gosh”, says the child, “It's just like Dad says. Offer someone a helping hand and they screw you every time".