June 99

Dognostics' Geography

Suckley is quite close to Wyre Piddle and Lickey End.


Cock Green and Puttocks End are not a hundred miles from the suspiciously named Fingringhoe.


Brown Willy is very far indeed from the two Bottoms north of Manchester.

It is information such as this that makes my AA Road Atlas of the British Isles such a consolation when the Dragon Lady isn't speaking to me on holidays, more or less the normal state of affairs when she is driving and I am navigating. It isn't that she's a bad driver. She's very good, in fact, at least for a woman, but if she has a fault [and who am I to suggest she might?] it is a certain lack of patience, perhaps a touch of irritability, indeed, to be strictly honest, she is a purple-faced, snarling, homicidal demon who, when we were in Naples last month, actually phoned our Italian-speaking son in London to ascertain the correct word for "wanker" so that she could properly address Italian drivers. [By the way, I am advised that the Spanish equivalent is 'pajero', which is why that vehicle is marketed in certain countries as a Shogun].

Anyhow, this intolerance is not limited to Italian drivers, but embraces virtually every other road user, all traffic lights, most signs and, above all, me. This is because, as Navigator, I get to issue the instructions and she is supposed to obey, a situation so divorced from normality that she becomes temporarily unhinged and even less reasonable than usual. Now, she may tell you that I am to navigation as Tom Creamer is to ballet-dancing, and may even unfairly allude to the time we spent thirty minutes lost in Birmingham because I had the map upside-down, or the time when, navigating for my friend Mick from San Francisco airport, I lost the entire city of San Francisco, ending up late that night in an armpit called Redwood City where we shared a motel room with mirrors on the ceiling, an experience neither of us would willingly repeat. And I admit, I am not perfect. Who is? (except Michelle Pfeiffer). But Navigation is an art, not a science, and I am an artist, so the directions I give may occasionally lead us in the wrong direction, but, like all art, they possess a certain inner Truth and Beauty which Claire Anne often fails to appreciate.

This holiday we took the Motorail from Calais to Nice and then drove to Naples so that I could at last visit Pompeii, which is fabulous. The most amazing feature for me is the vividness and preservation of the murals, painted 2000 years ago. One of them, and fastidious readers may care to skip to the next paragraph, depicts a gentleman called Priapus, who is endowed to the point of deformity, and is shown weighing his enormous member on a pair of scales, and looking mighty smug about it too. In front of the picture was a guide, explaining in meticulous detail the significance of male potency in Roman tradition to two women who were clearly wishing with all their hearts they were somewhere else. Evidently modern books on etiquette do not fully prepare young ladies today for this kind of information or suggest suitable responses.

Vesuvius itself is large but sleeping, however, on the other side of Naples is one of those smouldering volcanic areas with steam spurting out of the ground and ominously bubbling mud and a stench that suggests that Hell's Boxer is concealed just below the surface.

Then it was time to head north, so we checked out of our hotel. It is a matter of pride with us to boost as many pens as possible from the hotels we stay at, so I explained to the cashier that I would be very grateful for pens for my six grandchildren [Lies, of course. I have three, and none of them get my pens , so there]. Of course she smiled and would I like some key cards also? Why, thank you, yes, I said, not wishing to suggest what she could do with them, and took a half dozen of them as well.

Now my beloved tells me she's left a bag in the room on the 18th floor.

I don't know if you have ever spent time in a hotel corridor trying to open a door with an assortment of key cards while other residents nudge each other and try to phone Security, but when, on the fifth try, the door opened, I dove inside closed the door behind me, and waited till everyone had left. Then I made for an empty elevator, punched '0' and relaxed, even permitting myself a huge and satisfying rectal ventilation.

The lift stopped on 17. And 15. Also 12, 10 and 7. I don't know how, but everybody knew.

Anyway, back home now, where Phing the Bernese Mountain Dog who'll eat anything has just proved it by consuming six months supply of pond-clearing bacteria. I'll keep you advised. Also Awful Daughter Ingrid, who as a judge is said to have a good eye for a dog, has had her other eye lasered after slicing the membrane with a lottery ticket [and it didn't even win] A thing none of us thought about before the operation is that they put a clip on your eye to keep it open, give a local anaesthetic, and then the surgeon scrapes away the debris with a scalpel, AND YOU CAN'T NOT SEE IT! aaaaaaaaaah!

Two things before I go. First, a big thank you to those dog people who supported the Papillon Club charity night, either by contributing or by turning up. It was a smashing success, everybody seemed to have a ball, and it raised 5,350 for Temple St. Children's Hospital.

Finally, let us drink to the memory of Gerry Sweeney, who died while we were away. I didn't know him as well as most of you, but I liked him a lot and thought he was a lovely man who brought grace and dignity to a hobby which will miss him. To you, Gerry.