Tim Dowling

Plus Bim Adewunmi’s First take

The Guardian - Weekend - - Starters Contents - @IAmTimDowl­ing

My wife has a lack of scru­ples when it comes to the path of vic­tory, which has spoiled many a par­lour game

My wife and I wake up on some­one else’s lawn, some­where in the coun­try. When we ar­rived at the party the pre­vi­ous evening in the driv­ing rain, ev­ery­one laughed at our tent, which is the sort young peo­ple leave be­hind at fes­ti­vals be­cause they can’t fig­ure out how to fold them back up.

“I might sleep in the car,” my wife said. “It’ll be fine,” I said.

Hav­ing sur­vived the night, I feel as vin­di­cated as any­one who’s just spent seven hours ly­ing on the ground could.

“Ow,” I say.

“Get up,” my wife says. “We need to be at the dog show back at home.”

From my van­tage point, star­ing up at the roof of a damp tent, the dog show doesn’t seem like that much of an emer­gency. But it’s a neigh­bour­hood thing and we’re new to the neigh­bour­hood, and we said we’d go.

That af­ter­noon, I find my­self walk­ing down our road with my wife, all three boys, the old­est one’s girl­friend and the lit­tle dog on a lead. The late-lamented old dog was once a reg­u­lar prizewin­ner: Nicest Eyes, Wag­gi­est Tail, Dog the Judges Would Most Like To Take Home. I can’t imag­ine what sort of cat­e­gory this dog could tri­umph in.

“I think we’re go­ing to win,” my wife says. “Win what?” I say. “Third Small­est? Need­i­est In Show?”

We turn the cor­ner into a street full of peo­ple, pets and bunt­ing, with a band play­ing at one end and a book stall at the other; there’s also a stall sell­ing bow-ties for dogs, for Africa.

“Charm­ing,” my wife says, putting a tie on the dog back­wards.

My wife goes off to reg­is­ter, leav­ing the rest of us stand­ing in a lit­tle clutch in the road, know­ing no­body. Af­ter four min­utes, the mid­dle one de­cides the dog show isn’t his scene. The old­est one and his girl­friend head to the shop, leav­ing the youngest one and I to­gether. “I don’t have any money,” I say. “Do you have any money?”

Our dog is a late en­trant; pos­si­bly too late. Over at the regis­tra­tion ta­ble, my wife ap­pears to be pulling strings. She has a com­pet­i­tive streak and a lack of scru­ples when it comes to the path of vic­tory, a com­bi­na­tion that has spoiled many a par­lour game. I find my­self won­der­ing if it’s pos­si­ble to cheat in a dog show. “What’s she do­ing?” the youngest one asks. “She might be brib­ing some­one,” I say. “At least it means she’s got money.”

I see my wife head­ing back our way. “We’re in,” she says. “Don’t ask.”

There are three judges in white coats and 28 dogs to be ap­praised. Some are no-shows; most of the rest are cock­apoos. There is an­other dog that looks ex­actly like our dog, only nicer. Some dogs are ac­com­pa­nied by cute chil­dren. One is a puppy, and elic­its a melt­ing sigh of ad­mi­ra­tion from the crowd. That, I think, is how you cheat at a dog show.

Our dog is among the last to go. My wife walks it up the red car­pet laid along the street. The dog sits at the feet of the judges, then rises into a beg­ging po­si­tion. My wife winks at the judges, turns and leads the dog back.

“Whoa!” the youngest says.

“That was ac­tu­ally sort of im­pres­sive,” I say. The old­est one, his girl­friend and the youngest go home. I wait by some­one’s front gate with my wife while the judges de­lib­er­ate.

“I should have made it clear we were new,” my wife says. “Then they would have let us win.” “I’m not sure that’s how it works,” I say.

The boys are sit­ting in the kitchen when we re­turn home an hour later. My wife chucks her keys on the ta­ble.

“Un­placed,” she says.

“Noth­ing?” the old­est asks.

“I heard that one of the judges was prej­u­diced against ter­ri­ers,” I say. I sit down heav­ily, not quite know­ing what les­son to draw from my af­ter­noon.

The dog sits at my feet and looks up me ex­pec­tantly. “She hasn’t been fed,” my wife says. The dog rises into the beg­ging po­si­tion, as if on cue.

“Din­ners are for win­ners,” I say. “What are you?”

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