The Spilling of Sugar [1995]

Under recent Equal Rights legislation, our awful daughter Ingrid, whose dog-hating husband had unexpectedly taken one of Dizzy's Tervueren pups to his bony bosom, was entitled to a Bernese Mountain Dog, a breed to which she is helplessly attracted. Right on cue, just as Meg the Terve was proving how difficult it is to house train a pup on shift work, a huge Bernese Mountain Bitch, Sugar, aged fourteen months, became available in the UK. Gerry, after five years married to an Ahern woman, offered only token resistance, and so it was decided.

The plan was simple. Sugar's breeder would be at a show in Blackpool at which the Dragon Lady was judging, assisted by Small Sandra. After the show Sugar would be loaded into the Volvo and carried home in triumph via the Sea Lynx, with only a brief detour to Stockport for the DL to purchase materials for jewellery manufacture (another story) at a factory there.

Free transport. No hassle.

All went according to plan until arrival at the Stockport hotel that night. Sugar, having placidly entered the vehicle and slept through the journey, awoke to find two strange women opening the door. Sod this for a game of soldiers, I'm off, she thought, and, sending both of them sprawling, headed off into the night at high speed.

For the next forty-five minutes the good people of Stockport were puzzled by the appearance in their dark streets of two Irish women crying out for sugar in a loud voice. And then, suddenly, miraculously, she appeared.

Just before she was run over.

I don't know if you are familiar with Bernese Mountain Dogs, the Grand National has been won by smaller animals, but believe me when I tell you that they do serious damage to any vehicle they collide with - about 300 should cover it, I'm told, I'll let you know when we get the bill.

Sugar meanwhile, had gone to ground in the porch of a nearby terraced house, where she was in considerable distress. Fearful of another escape attempt, the Dragon secured the writhing dog by imaginatively thrusting one hand into her mouth to keep her occupied while attaching the lead with her other hand. On withdrawing the remains of her hand, she was alarmed to find that blood was spurting in torrents from a wide gash in the animal's throat, through which the windpipe, along with various other valves and viscera, could be clearly seen, and so she held the sides of the wound closed as best she could while the police, who had by now arrived, attempted to call a vet.

If your animal is going to get sick on a Sunday, tell it not to do it in the UK. Vet after vet refused to help. The RSPCA were called, but declined to assist on the curious grounds that the animal was not a stray. Eventually, after 35 minutes going through the yellow pages, Small Sandra located a vet worthy of the name who lifted Sugar into the boot of his car along with Sandra, who took over the throat-holding, closed the lid on both of them and drove off.

DL, who had been kneeling in her judging costume in a lake of blood for half-an-hour, looked like something from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and caused quite a stir when she appeared in the crowded hotel bar.

"Are you alright, Madam?" asked the Manageress.

"It's okay", she replied in what must have been a sinister fashion, "it's not my blood".

As the patrons clustered nervously at the far end of the room the Manageress took her to hospital where her hand, which looked like a Big Mac, was dressed and anti-tetanus shots administered.

Meanwhile, I was sitting at home in Dublin making a lonely Airfix model and getting quietly sideways on a bottle of solitary wine when I got the phone call to say that Sir could not drive because of the injury to her hand. This left Small Sandra, a girl whose driving lessons in my car terminated the day she swerved into a wall avoiding a daffodil (on my oath), a car, a wife and a bleeding dog the wrong side of the Irish Sea.

So I flew to Manchester next morning (98), to learn that Sugar's injuries, life threatening though they were, were all soft-tissue ones, and that, having escaped bleeding to death at the accident site, she would make a complete recovery.

Of course, she would have to remain in the hospital for a couple of days, so we would have to spend a couple of nights in England awaiting her release.

Hotel bills, say 100. A quick survey of Stockport indicated a visit to London, in spite of the cost of petrol (40, I suppose). During the trip, my beloved, badly shaken by events, declared that there would be no recurrence ever again, reinforcing this with the purchase of a custom-built dog-cage for the back of a Volvo, a steal at 277, as well as 25 worth of flexi-lead. Then back to Stockport and a quick visit to the jewellery suppliers, the original reason for going there.

Closed all day Wednesday.

And so to the hospital where a ransom of 368 in total for treatment and maintenance secured Sugar's release. I was glad to see her already looking healthier than my bank balance and exhibiting for the Dragon a new affection born no doubt of shared adversity, but it had now begun to snow heavily, and as changing our Sea Lynx ticket had already cost an extra 94 I wasted no time in celebration, but hit the road for Holyhead at once, cursing horribly.

Blizzard and all, we got to Holyhead in time to learn that due to adverse weather conditions the Sea Lynx had been cancelled. These adverse conditions, we learned to our cost, included a force nine gale and a singularly inappropriate choice in the restaurant of Sweet and Sour Pork or Lamb Curry, both of which smell much nicer their first time out.

Arrival in Dun Laoghaire was delayed by an earlier boat refusing to leave the berth, so we bounced around Dublin bay for an extra hour before landing. At last we made it to Ingrid's house and delivered the damn dog, and I picked up my car where I had left it early on Monday morning.

It had a 15 parking ticket on it.

I don't know how much my daughter paid for this dog, and if I did you're the last person I'd tell, but the next time she wants a dog transported for nothing she can sod off.

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I worshipped Claire Anne Smythe from afar for three years before getting up the nerve to ask for a date. My surprise when she accepted was exceeded only by my panic.

Came the big night, fine summer evening, me looking dashing in my terylene trousers with bits of tissue tastefully distributed around my seriously shaven face, Where should we go? Too nice to go to the pictures. And then who should appear but my old friend Mucky Dunne with his girl. Let's go down to Silver Strand.

Right. So we all got into Mucky's car and away we went, with me trying to prove by my incisive conversation and penetrating wit how intelligent I was, and yet how nice. I was doing pretty well too, though I say it myself, until we arrived at the beach and Mucky, without so much as a backward glance, plunged fully clothed into the sea and began clowning about, to the hysterical applause of his date and, I was disturbed to see, mine.

What to do? Allow myself, on a date for which I had waited three years, to be eclipsed by this skinny swine, the man I had once considered a friend? Or show myself as uninhibited and amusing as anyone and to hell with the terylene trousers and the trendy sports coat.

There was no contest. With a loud whoop of pretended glee I launched myself into the surf, the gratifying laughter of my intended only partially compensating for the chilly discomfort of wet terylene where it counts. But honour was preserved, and after two or three eternities gambolling in the ocean, Mucky and I splashed wetly ashore to girlish cries of delight and admiration.

And then Mucky (may his children be monkeys) nonchalantly opened the boot of his car and extracted therefrom a complete set of dry clothing into which he changed, while I stood sopping in a widening pool of water trying to look unconcerned and in control. The fact that I subsequently married Claire Anne in spite of her raucous and uncalled-for mirth says much for my powers of forgiveness.

What, I hear you cry, has this to do with dogs, and the avoidance thereof? Absolutely nothing. What it has to do with is Madame Editor's unreasonable requirement that I fill the space allotted me. Given the week I've put in it's a wonder I can write at all.

So there.