It’s a dog’s life
MY father advised that my pet should always be a gundog. As the owner of an indeterminate number of dachshunds—four, five?—a pair of dalmatians and their seven puppies, a Kerry blue terrier (who bit the vicar after he’d mistaken him for a rug) and a yellow lab, he spoke from experience.
Thus, when we got married, we made a special visit to the Northern Game Fair in the grounds of Raby Castle, Co Durham, where there was a display of different varieties of gundog. We fatefully picked the weimaraner, which— then extremely rare and now uncommon—is the most beautiful dog in existence. It has a short coat the colour of gleaming silver and the shape of a supermodel and its eyes are yellow. When one looks at you, you know what it’s trying to tell you.
Our search for a puppy wasn’t easy and eventually led to a breeder in Devon, nearly the length of England from home in North Yorkshire.
The breeder, Lindley Milne, forewarned us about our choice. At the time, I wrote that he told us ‘we had taken a step that would irrevocably change our lives’ and that he knew all this from experience as he had five dogs ‘all of whom slept every night on his bed’. I added: ‘Not surprisingly, he wasn’t married.’
The same article came with a picture of our new pup on my knee as we drove him 300 miles north ‘looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth’.
We called him Nik in homage to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, a great hero of ours, as well as, perhaps, because his pedigree read like something out of the Almanach de Gotha. Being from a German breed, Nik’s forebears included Bodo von Reiningen, Vita van der Harpska and Cid von Bolkewehr.
Mr Milne’s prediction that Nik would prove life-changing was immediately borne out by his refusing to lie on the floor, preferring our Eames chair and, of course, insisting on sleeping in our bed. Indeed, we have a photo of Hew asleep in a single bed entangled with three grown weimaraners, each roughly the size of an eight-year-old boy. At the height of our folly, we had four, two dogs and two bitches.
There was Nik, now a proud dad with mum Chloé (named after the French fashion designer) and the one of their three pups that we kept. We called her Kate—i can’t remember why. The other two, both dogs, we sold to other eager owners-to-be who stayed in touch with us over the years. Then, the youngest was Otto (after conductor von Klemperer), which we bought from a nearby breeder.
At that point, we lived in Halifax in an old house with a large garden (it had been a pub with a boating lake) and wild land running up hills alongside it. If the pack felt like it, they could race up the hills in a gundog-like manner.
We still have a weimaraner, our sixth, despite all the trauma that the breed encourages. Our current one is a bitch named Syrie, after Somerset Maugham’s wife, who was a famous interior decorator. Her style was white rooms with lots of mirror glass.
Syrie is a lovely dog with not an ounce of aggression, but she does suffer from the well-known trait of ‘separation anxiety’, which means she squeals and howls when Hew leaves her.
She does this every morning without fail when he goes to buy the papers. Although he’s only gone for 10 minutes at most, she hasn’t learnt it. Or she realises that the howling is the only thing that brings him back.
She’s won. We don’t leave her unless we can hire one of her two favourite dog-sitters, just like Nik always sat in the Eames chair and Chloé reduced the house to chaos when we went out to lunch.
My father might have been right that the only kind of dog to own is a gundog, but I don’t think he meant quite like this.
‘The howling is the only thing that brings him back