Good dog, bad dog and a taste of home
WE arrived 45 minutes early, which surprised everyone, but I couldn’t explain that we’d had to evacuate our house, having chosen that morning to release toxic moth foggers, because it was clear that we’d coincided with the moment the lasagne needed tending, the chairs needed finding and the cars needed reparking. Our arrival had the effect of stirring a hornets’ nest with a sharp stick, so, having roiled the previously calm seas of my sister’s house, we left again.
This meant we were early for the train on which Anna would be arriving. While we sat in the car, I wondered about the effectiveness of moth foggers and Zam said: ‘Your chin does really odd things when you laugh.’ He and Alfie continued to discuss and then film my chin and its habits, which isn’t how I would have chosen to kill the time.
‘Shall I tell you who will be at lunch?’
Twenty-two cousins were gathering or at least cousins and their children, who are still cousins. ‘Second cousins or first cousins once removed, I’m not sure,’ I told Alf as he tried to pinpoint the exact relationships he would soon be experiencing.
When we returned, Fletcher the dachshund cocked his leg on the first armchair he found. Given that he’s prone to neurotic behaviour, he does this with breathtaking insouciance. There’s nothing furtive about it—he likes a roomful of people. ‘Fletcher,’ I chided from across the room. My mother shrugged—she expects nothing less from him. If he and I had been on speaking terms, I might have defended him (all dogs cock their legs on that chair, but I’m not sure my brother-inlaw knows this), but we weren’t, because, the day before, he’d disappeared for nearly three hours with Cub.
Cub’s owner and I were walking round the garden when the dogs took off like bullets. I knew exactly where they were heading—to a huge badger sett in a copse at the end of the field. After an hour, we began to get edgy. I drove towards the copse and banged the car doors, yelling ‘Suppertime’, which it was, and Cub’s owner shouted ‘Now, look what I’ve got here’, which is her equivalent. We heard nothing. We returned to the house.
Another hour passed. We circled the copse again. We went home and opened the wine. Cub’s owner was now late for dinner elsewhere. We hatched a plan that I’d keep her dog overnight —a less than perfect state of affairs. At the exact moment that we finally gave up and she gathered her keys, Cub and Fletcher reappeared. It’s always hard to know whether to shout or welcome them home. We washed their muddy beards in the sink, which, I’m pleased to say, they found deeply humiliating.
At the lunch, a beautiful lurcher wandered gracefully, peacefully around, lending a calm gentleness to the room. ‘I love your dog,’ I said, wistfully. ‘She is special,’ agreed my cousin. ‘Is she perfect?’ ‘I think she may well be, actually.’
Fletcher was in my arms, whining. I changed the subject to the food. ‘Did your mother use Bovril in all her stews?’ ‘She did,’ laughed my cousin. ‘No, it was Oxo,’ said her sister. ‘Bovril.’ ‘Oxo.’ ‘It was definitely Bovril.’
‘And Crosse & Blackwell consommé in the egg mousse?’ ‘Sometimes topped with fake caviar.’ These are the things that bind us.
At home, I warm up the previous day’s stew (with Bovril) for supper. Alfie reckons my chin runs in the family. I ring my mother and we laugh about the culinary habits passed down. ‘I’ve got to go. I need to cook the kale for supper,’ I say. ‘Kale?’ she snorts. ‘How filthy. Kale is for cattle.’ And with this, the different generations bid each other goodnight.
‘At the moment we finally gave up, Fletcher and Cub reappeared