So often in one’s interactions with domestic animals one is conscious of having been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The Labrador is physiologically well adapted to conveying such complex emotions as injury, tragic irony, incipient heartbreak &c (whereas your Abyssinian cat, by and large, leads on irritation, expressed via the tail, censoriousness, and a sort of abstract, generalised, stern disapproval). But a particular cause of eye-rolling, swooning and what have you on the part of Labradors is THE AWFUL THINGS WE EAT. The household is actually rather gastronomic, from a human point of view. We also – those readers who know and I hope love us, in all our rotundity – may be surprised to hear – try to eat sensibly. We use little fat, mostly olive oil and some butter, and almost no sugar, I hardly ever make cakes or puddings, and we don’t fry anything. We buy and cook huge quantities of fresh vegetables, we make our own bread, and we buy meat from a farm-shop, or the Apparitional Gamekeeper kills it for us. But what we do use in surprising quantity, is chillies. A swift review of the cupboards suggests that the household contains, at the moment: fresh chillies, Barbadian chilli sauce, Jamaican chilli sauce, Malaysian chilli sauce, a ‘hot seasonings’ grinder, Chinese chilli oil, Thai holy basil and chilli marinade, Spanish smoked paprika powder, and, since the Real World Consultant came back from Los Angeles where he visited the Mexican market with $1000 in dollars in his back pocket (for complicated reasons, no I am not going to explain), four different kinds of dried whole chillies – rather lively three-inch mahogany coloured ones, small, black, wrinkled and deadly smoked ones, two large, flat, charred ones, possibly the victims of spontaneous combustion, and some mysteriously chocolate-flavoured beige ones. At least two out of the above list tend to be in requisition in any meal whatsoever, yea verily, even unto a boiled egg. So often one puts down the remains of dinner for the dog, which AGAIN, consist of some variation on the theme of lightly cooked vegetables, garlic, a smear of oil from where I’ve grilled a bit of something, and … yes, of course. Chillies.
The question which arose in our minds after a while, was: given that this is the only life which the little animal has ever known, why does Miss Dog look so heartbroken at this juncture? As so often, the answer was to be found in Silly Bitch Magazine. This discreditable publication runs a Serial, which is called ‘The Dear Old Days’. A somewhat dodgy author credit suggests that this has been channeled via ouija board from Miss Enid Blyton (such things happen. I have in a safe place a book which redacts what the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to tell the world of the living). ‘The Dear Old Days’ is set, it seems, interwar. There are three labradors, golden, liver, and black, called Spiffy, Biffy and Miffy. The human cast features Squire Jolly of Jollity Hall, who is large and cheerful, has a red face, and appears to have infinite leisure for going shooting. There are four children between 8 and 12, three boys and a girl, much given to all-day adventures, involving (probably) escaped bank robbers and so forth, but more certainly, picnics of cheese sandwiches, cake, and chocolate on the bank of a not too fast river. On wet days, the children make scones and fudge, and play pirates in the sitting room, which involves roaring fires, and the toasting of sausages and crumpets. There is a Dear Baby of anorexic tendency much given to comically lobbing whatever it has been offered into the waiting mouth of Spiffy, Biffy, or Miffy. The family never takes holidays abroad, though they do go to the seaside in a shooting brake. Mrs Jolly does nothing from morning to night but bake cakes, buns, and biscuits. There is an Aga in the kitchen with beside it, a big, shabby, cozy basket with fetid old blankets which have begun to move about of their own accord. And family supper reliably consists of Shepherds Pie, Sausage and Mash, Macaroni Cheese, or Chicken and Roast Potatoes, none of which involves any seasoning more challenging than parsley, with Rice Pudding for afters, all made in huge, scarred enamel dishes, with plenty left over for the dear dogs …
With all these splendours, plot there is almost none. ‘It was a bright sunny day in Jollity Hall. “I wonder what we’re going to do today?” said Biffy (or Spiffy, or Miffy) as the first rays of light touched their basket, and they stretched and yawned. Just then, Mike, George, Sam and Frankie piled into the kitchen. “Hello, dogs!” said Mike. “Let’s have an adventure!” “If you’re going to have an adventure, you need feeding up!” laughed Mrs Jolly. “Who wants bacon and eggs and fried bread?”’ – oh, write the rest yourself.
It goes without saying that certain sordid details of big house life for Labradors seem to have been mysteriously suppressed, such as living in outside runs and toeing the line generally: in fact, the total irresponsibility and self-indulgence of canis suburbicanus has been grafted onto the splendours of the past, with all the diffy bits left out … and is this not the story of Past Times/the National Trust and heritage generally, even for those of us who are not paid up members of the Silly Bitch Club?