Wil­fred De’ath

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

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’

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