I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I am a fierce important part of the annual Pup of the Year thingy, at which a couple of hundred dog-freaks disport themselves in evening dress, the men elegantly attired in formal black, the women resplendent in glamourous colourful dresses. Or, in a number of cases this year, the other way around, one gentleman wearing overall pink and another a skirt. Now aren't you sorry you missed it? There was also an outbreak of those regrettable waistcoats, one of them, I'm ashamed to say, on my own son-in-law, which look like those cross-sections of diseased lungs you get in anti-smoking ads.
Anyhow, I am Assistant to the Honorary Secretary, which means I get to park the car and carry the stuff in and out of the hotel. This year I was also host to the overseas judge, the Baroness Van Amerongen, who spent one night in our house before promotion to the Shelbourne.
We were, of course, delighted, having just recently renovated the spare room after the departure of the kids. I had decided that a pine cladding would look well on all the walls and, spurning the Dragon Lady's unsubtle hints about using a builder, set to work myself. The result was most attractive, and as long as no one attempted hang a picture or anything, you couldn't tell just by looking that the wall behind had been reduced to rubble. Something to do with putting in grounds rather than nailing the panels direct to the plaster. Why wasn't I told?
So here we are with a Baroness pending, and something large and unpleasant picks this time and someplace in the spare room to die. We first became aware of the faint odour of decay about a week before D-day. After a day or so pointedly looking at my socks, it dawned on herself that even they had never assaulted the nostrils so violently, and that the spare room, rather than her beloved's footwear, was the focus of the problem.
Well, we looked everywhere. We took all the old clothes out of the wardrobes ("you mean I actually wore THAT? In PUBLIC?"). We lifted the carpet. We excavated the old suitcases (Anyone want a pass-out from Club Nautico, Rimini, c 1977?). We then got a builder (alright, I know when I'm licked) to dismantle the walls. Clouds of dust and the disbelieving titters of the builder(He'll never work for me again) mingled with the steadily increasing stench of the crypt. Still nothing was found, and the walls were re-cladded, on what seemed to me an unnecessarily dense and complex foundation of timber laths. By the morning of the Baroness' arrival, the stink caused even Toots, the Boxer Queen of Flatulence, to gag, so Sir assailed the room with aerosols of fresh air (I swear it says on the label. "Fresh Aire"), Dettol, little dangly things with Christmas trees on them, and a bowl of wood shavings (I know, I know. But it makes her happy). The original smell was now mixed with several others and the resulting olfactory cocktail would extinguish a fire.
But not, thankfully, a Baroness. Looking, perhaps, a little paler than when she retired, she arose the next morning and, when we broke down and confessed, she denied having noticed a smell in the room at all. This how you can recognise the true aristocracy - the ability to detect unpleasant odours has been bred out of them through lack of use.
We never found the corpse. The builders believe it's somewhere in the cavity wall. Rot in Peace.
So after that the actual function was a doddle, the only shock, apart from the sartorial aberrations mentioned earlier, being my first encounter with an American Cocker, an animal which has evidently obtained a dispensation from the Pope to wear its legs upside-down. They also look as if they should have castors on the underneath, but I didn't actually check.
Just yesterday the D.L. demonstrated that breath-taking logic and knack of going straight to the heart of a problem for which dog-freaks are renowned. She and I took Toots and Dizzy the Perve Terve for a walk along the beach. Knowing Toots to have a short temper, we carefully considered the distance between ourselves and the dog half-a-mile ahead and judged it safe to let ours off the lead. All would have been well had not a small blue lady with three tiny white Jack Russells emerged from the rocks two hundred yards behind. With a single fart of outrage Toots was away, with me and the D.L. in hot pursuit, screaming her name in unison. As it happened, she did not dismember the three startled Jack Russells, but merely arrived in their midst at high speed, screeched to a halt and stood looking arrogant.
So one of them jumped up and bit her in the leg.
All hell broke loose. Little white dogs flew through the air like snowflakes, the Dragon and I redoubled our pace and volume, and the small blue lady seized Toots by one hind leg and held her up in the air. "Take him away! Take him away!" she wailed. Claire Anne froze in mid-stride. Her face darkened in fury as she drew herself up to her full height.
"IT'S NOT A HE!", she bellowed indignantly, "IT'S A SHE!"
My, I bet the small blue lady felt even smaller.
Last issue we learned a number of useful phrases for judging at French dog-shows, which is precious little use to Herself, who has been chosen to judge at the Bundessieger in October, where the language is, of course, German. Now, my beloved is nobody's fool, and can pick up foreign phrases from films, comics, books and what-have-you, as quick as anyone. However, the expressions "Raus!", "Achtung, Spitfire!" and "Der Britischer Schwein" will be of limited value in the show ring, so if anyone out there can provide the German translations of "Do a triangle", "how old is he", and "read the standard yourself, you bastard", please forward them care of the Editor.
If you notice my helpmeet marching stiff-legged around the place barking commands, it has nothing to do with this appointment. She's always been like that, at least since the episode of the Pink Papillon. Oh, didn't I? Well, briefly, several years ago she took off for a foreign shore (Crufts) leaving me and the kids in charge of the menagerie. It wasn't until the day before her return that one of her favourites found and ate the red felt pen. With certain death and mutilation already en route from Holyhead, we frantically bathed the crimson-blotched dog, and managed at least to spread the colour fairly evenly, so that instead of a red-and-white Papillon we had a red-and-pink one. I thought it was strangely attractive, but the Dragon Lady failed to appreciate it and imposed martial law on the spot.
I look up from my literary labours and observe my two-year-old grandson standing rapt at the window, outside of which Houdi and Wanda are engaged in the endless rituals of courtship. For the umpteenth time, she flicks her tail to one side, he launches himself on to her back with a crazed leap, lunges mightily and falls off, walking around in an odd jerky fashion while his intended patiently awaits his next attempt. How to answer the insistent question "What doing, Papa?". Noel Coward's famous explanation in similar circumstances ("The one at the front has been struck suddenly blind, and his friend is pushing him to St. Dunstan's") is not working.
I think I'll go to the pub.