In her own words:
Miranda Hart had always been more of a cat person than a dog person… but then along came Peggy. In this extract from her book Peggy & Me, Miranda tells the tale of how an adorable little puppy sneaked into her heart and home.
an entertaining extract from Miranda Hart’s new book, Peggy & Me
Ifelt safe laughing at “show-business Princess Peggy”, getting to know her, playing with her, allowing myself to become fond, because she was already spoken for. Eunice and her siblings, unsurprisingly enough, had had owners lined up and waiting for them since birth. Which meant I could frolic to my heart’s content, in the knowledge that there was no risk whatsoever of my ending up “with dog”, as it were. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES was I even going to consider thinking about entertaining the possibility of a dog. I was still an animal nut, of course, always to be so, but very much in the cat camp when it came to cat versus dog as a pet option, favouring the astute, independent, nonchalant vibe over the relentless neediness and excitability of a dog.
And in any case I was just beginning to get regular work as an actor, and dog ownership is, to say the least, wildly incompatible with the acting lifestyle. Unlike cats, dogs need routine, stability, company; as smooth and predictable a life as possible. Actors have to be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice so they can vanish off to stand in a wet field in Surrey in an enormous bonnet saying things like, “But forsooth, Mr Bradshaw, it’s a way to go by horse if you plan to be in Lower Loxfield by sundown.” Actors need to be able to say yes to a supporting role in a musical running for five months at the Dundee Grand, the first week of which may well be spent sleeping in the boot of a Volvo to save on costs. Actors
have to leave at dawn, rehearse all day in a damp church hall on the wrong side of town, and come back home at midnight, tipsy, to a solitary, disorganised dinner of petrol-station pasties and prosecco. I knew you couldn’t do any of this easily if you had a little creature depending on you for food, comfort, exercise, and a place to call home, or at the very least enough of a disposable income that you could pay someone else to provide these things on your behalf.
What’s more, I had almost no experience of looking after anything. Not successfully, at any rate. I’ve never kept a pot plant alive for longer than a week. I tend to run shrieking from the room when friends ask me to water their gardens for them. And what I haven’t admitted to you, MDRC [My Dear Reader Chum], is that I have a certain amount of what the criminal justice system might call “previous” as regards animal care. My only real dog-handling experience was a couple of truly disastrous days spent looking after a dog called Charlie. Charlie belonged to some friends of my parents, and he was a merry little
Scotty with a big bushy beard and a cheeky glint in his eye. A marvellous little companion, notable for his love of balls (stop it).
One sunny Sunday, I was taking Charlie for a stroll across Hyde Park, when we happened upon a football game. A proper football game – none of your five-a-side shirts-versus-skins kickabouts here – this was serious stuff. Twenty-two grim-faced, burly men, settling a score. I found myself slowing down a little to have a look. For purely pervy reasons, I hope you understand, simply trying to catch a closer look at some men in shorts. Alas, as I slowed, eyes firmly on the well-muscled thighs, all Charlie saw was the ball. The bouncing, glistening ball, completely irresistible to a keen little Scotty such as himself. He charged into the middle of the field and grabbed his prey, puncturing it, and galloped off with its leather carcass dangling from his mouth, chased by 22 now-furious men. I steamed across the pitch after him, deeply embarrassed and screaming his name. Thank goodness for his sensible dog name, and I didn’t have to run at 22 men shouting “Poo Hole”. Although, unfortunately, as it transpired, it was the same name as two of the men playing, which caused all sorts of confusion. “Charlie! Charlie!” “Yes.” “No, not you, the other Charlie.” “Me?” “No, the other one.” “Who, me? I thought you said it wasn’t me?” “NO NO, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, THE DOG CHARLIE!!!” “Are you calling me a dog?” “No, no, THE DOG IS CALLED CHARLIE, WHY IS EVERYONE CALLED CHARLIE!” I took one look at the furious footballers, panicked, and for some reason thought it best to shout, “He’s not my dog! Not mine!” as I picked him up and prised the ball from his teeth. Which made me look like a bellowing lunatic dog thief of the highest order.
Not my finest hour. Not my worst, either, as it happens. No, my dog-owning nadir came when I took Charlie to a student party where some of the guests were in the living room, fashioning a, what I call, “funny cigarette”. They’d left some of their “special grass” on the coffee table and Charlie, thinking it was some sort of marvellous plant-y dog treat, jumped right in and snaffled the lot. And then became ridiculously stoned, wandering around the party bashing into walls and hoovering up great big giant bowls of crisps until I got terribly worried and took him to the vet, who laughed and laughed and laughed, and called in her boss who laughed and laughed and laughed, and said that Charlie would be fine but that I ought to take his car keys off him, not let him make any important phone calls until the morning, and that on the way home he might want to stop for some munchies, have a good cry and get a bit huggy.
Childhood experiences of caring for pets were hardly more successful. At the age of 12 (just prior to the Save the Dodo campaign), I briefly had a hamster called Nellie. Note the word “briefly”. Also please note my aptly named pet with an “ie” ending. Well, Nellie, bless her, scampered merrily off when I let her out of her cage for a potter around the living room. I know I shouldn’t have let her out but I thought they must get so bored in their cages. I don’t think a hamster wheel can be in any way fun; it’s a cry for help, it looks desperate. It’s the hamster equivalent of a London commuter finally losing it and walking in little circles on the concourse at Euston Station shouting, “All is lost! All is lost!” And I was not going to embarrass Nellie and put her in one of those spherical transparent balls that force hamsters to pedal around bumping into furniture whilst towering humans laugh and point.
So I let her run around. Roam free, across the living room. I don’t quite know what happened or where exactly she went but, at the time of writing, Nellie is probably still decomposing pungently somewhere underneath my parents’ floorboards.
Some years later we risked getting a budgie, who I named Ernie (I need recognition for my consistency in pet naming). But Ernie also met with a sticky end when I let him out of his cage for some exercise. I think I may have watched Born Free a few too many times by this stage of my life. I thought I had shut the door to the living room, but it hadn’t clicked shut and the next thing I knew (and please don’t laugh at this and those of you who do are WRONG IN THE HEAD), Casper the cat had snuck in and Ernie flew straight into the slavering jaws of my beloved cat. An incident which led to a hilarious-in-retrospect-but-at-thetime-truly-horrible Benny Hill-esque scene involving my parents chasing me chasing the budgie-wielding cat round and round the house knocking into furniture and each other as we screamed, “Get the cat”, “He’s killing my budgie”, “Call the fire brigade!”, “Why the fire brigade?”, “DON’T
I did tend to, well, kill things. Not in a murder-y way you understand…”
Perhaps I’ll learn to love again via a perfect dog-woman relationship? ”
QUESTION ME, MOTHER, THIS IS ALL VERY TRAGIC.”
Yes, you could fairly say that my confidence in myself as a caretaker was not especially high. I did tend to, well, kill things. Not in a murder-y way, you understand – just stuff happens (which ironically sounds exactly the kind of thing a murderer would say). The list of my victims now reads something like: 1 x budgie, 1 x hamster, 15 x pot plants, 1 x rhododendron bush (no, I don’t know quite how I managed that one either), 1 x oak tree (drove into it in a miniature digger, long story), and 1 x Tamagotchi (yes, it’s just a computer, but it’s still really sad when they die). I was reluctant in the extreme to add “1 x adorable small dog” to the list.
However, one morning at work the costume lady informed me that the owner who was lined up for “Eunice” was no longer going to be able to take her on, due to having had a fall and needing a hip replacement. It was suddenly a possibility that the puppy who I’d thought of as mine, but who I comfortably knew could never become mine, was now available to become, well, mine. I had a stern word with myself, told myself it just wasn’t possible. I was not going to get a dog. Eunice seemed to feel differently. I know it sounds completely mad, but it seemed that her behaviour towards me changed when there was suddenly a possibility of her becoming mine.
She became needy, beguilingly so, clambering over her siblings to reach me when I came to visit. Jumping up and yapping at me when she so much as saw me pass the door of the costume room, and gazing up at me with her adoring little orphan-like eyes as if to say “adopt me, lovely lady, adopt me, take me away and make me your own”, in what I imagined would be a squeaky Cockney sort of little Tiny Tim-type voice. “Don’t abandon me to the workhouse, Nice Miranda lady, where I’ll be shouted at by the mean orphanmaster. Take me home, and tuck me up nice and cosy by the fire. That’ll be luvverly, nice kind lady, won’t it? Please don’t abandon me, please!”
But no, absolutely not. Out of the question. I am not ready for the commitment. I mean, I am barely an adult. Nine times out of 10 I forget to pierce the film on microwave meals before microwaving, and consider anyone who remembers to do so to be “quite the chef”. As we know I am in no fit state to look after another living creature. And due to life’s recent knocks I was protective of my space and solitude. As I was staring over the bundle of puppies, stroking little
Eunice who was having what seemed like a frightening dream, the costume lady suddenly asked me outright, “So, would you like to take her?” I paused, confident in my response. “I’m sorry but… Yes. Yes I will.” WHAT?! What just happened? She immediately started excitedly talking logistics. “No, wait, stop, hang on… Did I just say…?”
What had I done?
I promised myself I would never join the dog-owning brigade. But there I was. I suddenly had my very own dog, a dog of my very own. Both a wonderful gift from the universe and, frankly, the absolute last thing I needed at the time. MDRC, as I’ve hinted, all was not well with me around the time that Peggy appeared in my life. I’d just ended a long-term relationship and the Hart heart (serious circumstances call for merry wordplay, I find) was not in the best shape. Coupled with that, almost as soon as my new pet crossed the threshold of my home, I succumbed to a miserable stretch of glandular fever. I was hit emotionally and physically pretty hard and I was feeling very lonely, very isolated, very depressed, and frankly, very uncertain whether I could ever love or be loved again.
Which brings us on to what this book’s going to be about: my journey with Peggy, from this moment forth. If you were hoping for some sort of ever-so-clever philosophical treatise on the wider ramifications of pet ownership in our increasingly individualistic society, you’re going to be disappointed. You should know by now that I like to get right into the nuance-y nub of things, the awkward little moments, the daft happenings of life which, if left undiscussed, have a tendency to eat away until you’re shrieking in the mirror with the sheer blinding horror of it all. In this case, that means the things you won’t see covered in the pamphlets you pick up at the vet’s. We’ll be delving into the pet-ownership equivalent of breaking wind on the massage table or having a job interview over a coffee and answering a serious question with a “frothy coffee moustache”, or greeting someone with a second kiss when the other person was only ever committing to the one. And we’ll begin where we are: the pair of us back at my flat for the first time, sad and worried, uncertain whether or not life was ever going to be all right again.
Desperate for a bit of fun in my life, I rechristened Eunice “Peggy”, because it reminded me of the word “Piggy”, as in “Miss Piggy”, the thought of which made me feel vaguely positive and strengthened. Plus Peggy was my heroine in Swallows and Amazons, and reminiscing about youthful freedom with not a care was at the time deeply appealing. Then, in a flash, my present reality overwhelmed me. It was as though the exhaustion and sadness of being alone punched me in the stomach. I crumpled on to the kitchen floor in a heap and burst out crying. I couldn’t stop. Deep guttural sobs. I can still remember, vividly, Peggy lying patiently in my arms as my tears trickled down her fur. I was grateful to have something to cuddle. And I thought then, perhaps this dog’s going to turn it all around. Perhaps that’s why I found myself saying yes. Perhaps I’ll learn to love again via a perfect dog-woman relationship? Perhaps this will be the start of something beautiful…
Reproduced from Peggy&Me by Miranda Hart with permission from Hachette NZ, on sale nationwide from October 11, $37.99.