Visitors [1994]

One of the problems with friends is they go off on holiday and you have to look after their dogs.

Life here in Pap City is complex at the best of times, what with Kim hating Red, Red hating Houdi, and Houdi hating everybody and proving it by crapping in the water bowl whenever he can manage it, or, failing that, employing his world famous talent for lifting both hind legs simultaneously and letting fly with a yellow rain in all directions. Jason is neurotic and Jic knows it, while the bitches are prone to mass hysteria and choral yelping at passing aircraft. I won't even mention heats. Oh alright I will.

Heats are hell.

All this involves unbelievably complicated choreography as different combinations of dogs and bitches are switched between the various fenced areas, all the time remembering that Toots the Malodorous Boxer loathes all Papillons, while Dizzy Perve Terve thinks she is one, and, given the chance, will charge gleefully among them, playfully scattering maimed pups to either side.

Enter the visitors.

Three Papillons.

Aren't they sweet?


I don't know what Sir's friend feeds them on, probably battery acid and semtex, but they are the most evil-tempered gougers I have ever come across in my life, and I've been a professional musician. Chief among them is a barking abortion called, for no reason I can think of, Kojak, a slavering handful of spite who already has a man's finger and a leather handbag on his score-card. He has to have a run all to himself, a sort of canine Hannibal Lecter. The other two aren't quite so bad, comprising an ill-tempered grump of a dog and a subservient edgy puppy, but our gang don't like them either so they get another run.

(I have it on good authority and I swear this is true that all three, when at home, are terrorised by the family rabbit, which has apparently learned to bark.

Speaking of rabbits, I don't know if I ever told you about the time my infant daughter Ingrid got a stuffed one as a present. She must have been about three or four, and she was thrilled to bits. "Look at my lovely bunny, Daddy", she lisped "What should I call it?"

Opportunities such as this occur too rarely in life. "There's only one proper name for a lovely bunny like that", I said paternally, "call it Buxlaika". So other kids' parents would say "That's a lovely bunny rabbit, little girl, what's its name?" And Ingrid would dimple sweetly and say

"Buxlaika Bunny"

and the people would hurriedly shepherd their young away from this undesirable playmate.

One day, when she was about fourteen and without warning, she hit me an unmerciful box. The penny had dropped.

She has an infant son of her own now, who is closely interrogated every time he comes home from his Papa's, for fear of any grandfatherly humour. If she happens to be judging your breed, whisper, as she examines your dog, "Buxlaika". I don't know what the effect will be, but I look forward to hearing about it.

But I digress)

Anyhow, the loss of two runs to the visitors inevitably means that some of the home team who normally ignore each other through the chicken-wire are now prone to collide, with all the monotonous warning growls that this provokes, while, at the window, Dizzy excitedly tears down yet another curtain and Toots farts menacingly from the couch.

At which point, enter the Schoolfriend, the leader of the rebel faction in the Dragon Lady's school, from which she was later expelled for midnight feasting and poker, who also masterminded the Hackettstown Chicken Incident when she and the D.L., on holidays from Dublin and bored senseless, tied string around the necks of chickens, which they then attempted to lead-train in the main street, telling the bemused natives that Dublin people too poor to own a dog often keep pet chickens, thus provoking a sermon the following Sunday condemning "young ones down from the city doing unnatural things with poultry".

The above is not only absolutely true, but also, at 102 words, the longest sentence I have ever written in my life. I am immensely proud of it.

Anyway, the Schoolfriend, who has lived in Canada for twenty years, and was accompanied on this visit by her nineteen-year-old-daughter, has turned serious on us, having become, God help us, a psychiatric psychologist, or perhaps it was a psychological psychiatrist, something, in any case, with a lot of silent P's in it, like a public swimming pool (sorry, rude, rude, sorry) and she now goes around Understanding You. This is not the house for that sort of nonsense, especially on Sunday when the kids and their spouses turn up for dinner and everybody shouts at once.

Thats when the Schoolfriend's nubile daughter dropped off my fantasy list. "I'm going out to play with the dogs" she said.

And she opened all the doors.

Can I come and stay with you for a while?