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.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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