Good dog, bad dog and a taste of home

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

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

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