especially as I have never had this effect on any male before, dog or human. However, the tactics he employs to get me to stay behind have lately become absurdly over-theatrical.
The moment he senses my impending departure, he has taken to following me around the house, affecting a pitiful Tiny Tim-style limp. It is largely Mr Home Front’s fault. For the past two years, he has enabled the dog’s over-dependency by including him in absolutely everything we do. I’m quite sure people no longer view Mr H F and I as a couple, but as part of a weird triumvirate.
‘Can Lupin come?’ he asks whenever we get invited anywhere. The answer is usually a hesitant, ‘Er, yes, I, er, suppose so…’ These past few years, the Colonel – L’s latest moniker – has been present at four dinner parties, a retirement do, a book launch and a wake in Whitton.
I wasn’t entirely happy about the wake decision. Neither was a distant cousin of the deceased, whose dog phobia resulted in a mild panic attack in the kitchen. The canine mourner was hastily banished to the car, where his master made an unnecessary show of checking on him every five minutes.
He insists on Lupin accompanying us on car trips to the supermarket, or the dump (eliciting jocular cries of ‘We don’t take dogs, mate!’ from the binmen).
Whenever I drive Mr H F to the railway station, the Colonel has to come.
‘Why is he even here?’ I say, irritably. ‘I’ll be home in two minutes.’ ‘He likes coming.’ Holidays abroad are out of the question as he will no longer leave Lupin with Mr H F’s godparents, Patrick and Annabel.
‘You and Betty go somewhere – I’ll stay behind with the Colonel.’ ‘But Annabel loves having the Colonel!’ Mr H F is insistent, claiming that Lupin would be too distressed if we all went: ‘Besides, he growls at Patrick.’ ‘Annabel’s fine about that, too.’ ‘Patrick’s bloody not.’ (Last year, Annabel and Lupin were decanted into the spare room).
When I say I’m going up to London, Mr H F’s face clouds over. Initially I thought he was concerned about Isis unpleasantness. But no. ‘What are we going to do about the Colonel?’ he says.
Work schedules are often rejigged. Once, an entire episode of Sophy Ridge on Sunday went out without his editorial work on it. A family crisis, he told them (Betty and I had gone to Ikea).
Someone else had to greet Jeremy Corbyn. The editor was unavoidably detained at home, repeatedly throwing a stuffed toy duck for his dog.
Things I will not miss about Cambridge now I’m leaving:
1. Hordes of tourists/students blocking the pavements, driving poor old cripples (like me) into the road to face oncoming traffic (I have been knocked over twice).
2. Cambridge prides itself on its reputation as the wealthiest city (town) in Britain. Every time I go into a pub, a drink cost another 10p. The rents, too, are exorbitant.
3. In the 1950s, the late, great Peter Cook used to invite me over from Oxford to attend parties which he gave in an empty pub with his then girlfriend, Wendy. In those days, Cambridge was a genuine small provincial town instead of the ersatz city it has become… It is also an unfriendly place, with no bourgeoisie, due to an increasingly transient population.
4. Building a few high-rise blocks around the station does not turn a town into a city. Cambridge retains a small provincial mentality.
5. I will admit, reluctantly, that I should have studied English at Cambridge, where it is much better taught compared with Oxford, where I should prefer to live. So I have lived life the wrong way round.
6. I hate the thin-blooded, snobbish dons who invite me to dinner due to my celebrity and then proceed to patronise me on the one subject they know a little about. History, usually.
7. I hate the Cambridge City Council housing department, which writes me letters that would disgrace a backward ten-year-old.
8. I hate the city’s Anglican clergy who are all lightweight and lacking in gravitas.
Things I will miss in Cambridge: Absolutely nothing – except the girl who works in a pub near the station and has promised to become my sex slave.
‘That was Penelope. She’s coming round for tea and cake and some thinly veiled barbs’