Monday, 18 May 2009

The Hair of the Dog



I may have mentioned before Susie’s fascination with vacuum cleaners. [v. “Taking the Mickey”]

I think we currently own about eight – one for upstairs, one for downstairs (OK - this is not unreasonable – it saves lumping the bloody thing up and down the stairs every day ) one Vax in case one of the dogs does a whoopsie on the carpet, a small portable job for the car, and a few dead ones, which I’d be happy to take to the tip, but which she insists we hang on to ‘just in case’. Just in case of what, escapes me – as far as I know they don’t do a Doctor Who and miraculously regenerate all on their own, and being older models than our current crop, they’re not even worth keeping to cannibalise for parts.

I, on the other hand, detest the infernal machines with a passion. Apart from anything else, the noise they make disturbs my concentration, sours my mood, and engenders that squeaky-chalk effect which penetrates deep into my soul. The Professor of Physics who thinks sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum hasn’t heard ours. I’ve been through quieter and less stressful air raids, in my time. Goering doing his damnedest didn’t annoy me as much as the daily vacuuming does. Mind you – I was only a toddler at the time, and probably didn’t realise he meant it.

But her love affair with assorted floor-cleaning devices has just reached new heights. Or do I mean depths.

But, as they say in Llarregub, to begin at the beginning. You don’t have to be Welsh to be a poet, but it helps.

We have two dogs, Gemma and Amie, Rough Collies both, who as is customary with the breed, have long, long coats. And so when they moult, which at this time of year they do, they moult bigtime. Thus, a certain amount of vacuuming is (admittedly) necessary, if we don’t want to be permanently wading through an inch-thick layer of discarded Collie.

A few days ago Gemma began scratching herself rather a lot. So Susie had a careful look through her (Gemma’s) coat and found (shock, horror!) a flea. It wasn’t a particularly big flea, as fleas go – maybe it had been ill. It was certainly somewhat dead. But Suse, having won (for the moment at least) the Second Mouse War, has no problem recognising a new foe when she sees one.

Red alert! Action Stations! Mobilise forces. Call out the Cavalry! (in this case her elder daughter Melinda, her usual second-in-command and co-conspirator when it comes to the armed conflict against household pests. I must tell you of the Great Ant Wars, sometime.)

The first exercise involved their stripping-out both dogs, which took a couple of stressful hours and resulted in enough spare fur to cover another one, most of which came from Amie, who since she’s been interfered with by the vet had grown her coat to over a foot long, in places. And another insectine cadaver. But no live ones, and no fleashit. Problem solved, or so we thought.

But then Gemma promptly sat down, had an exploratory sniff at both her own and Amie’s now pristine rear ends, and then started scratching again.

Deep sighs all round. A light sprinkling of Anglo-Saxon from the Mrs James aforesaid. Never mind. Re-group. Initiate Plan B. Bathtime.

Amie’s very good, when it comes to baths. You’ll lift her in, and she’ll just stand there resignedly, looking down her long aristocratic nose with all the innate disapproval of a Dowager Duchess in a bus queue. But she won’t make a fuss – that she would consider beneath her.

Gemma is a dog of a different colour. (Literally, as it happens, as well as figuratively.) Gemma doesn’t do baths, and throughout the process will do her utmost to leap out and leg it. This engenders a slight logistical problem, involving all hands, with the aim of getting all of the dog into the bath at once, and keeping her there, which unless you want the bathroom floor a foot deep in water, is a bit necessary. And in all fairness to the poor beast I suppose that if I had two people holding me down and one directing hot water all over my head or up my jacksie I’d be somewhat miffed and inclined to try and do a runner, too.

But the canine ablutions completed, and the bathroom vaguely cured of having had two wet dogs shaking themselves all over it (and the rest of the Dramatis Personae), it was everybody downstairs, and one-at-a-time (the dogs, not us) onto the grooming table. (no – we’re not really that doggy, or that posh, the kitchen table with an old blanket slung over it has to suffice.)

Roll of Drums. Flurry of Trumpets. Sound the Advance. Let Operation Dry Dog commence.

This last consists of two grown women spending several hours with a hair-dryer and a curry comb apiece doing Vidal Sassoon impressions on dumb animals, thereby transferring considerable quantities of surplus-to-requirement fur from dog to kitchen floor, assiduously checking, comb-ful by comb-ful, for any unwanted fauna with high-jumping talents. To not much avail, frankly. One more defunct example of Ctenocephalides canis, and that’s yer lot.

Amie went first, and was, as usual, no trouble. Gemma, on the other hand……..well. let’s just say I had to leave off watching Man U winning the Premier League again, and come and hold her down. You’ll get the idea.

Anyway – finally she allows herself to be lifted down from the improvised grooming table, has a pro-forma shake, wanders into the front room, and begins another reciprocal arse-sniffing contest with Amie.

And then sits down and starts scratching again.

“O – what a pity” quoth Mrs J. (and if you’ll believe that,……………..)

So - finally, we come to plan C, which brings us neatly back to Susie’s vacuum cleaner fixation.

Because I’ve just spent the last fifteen minutes watching my darling wife actually hoovering the dogs.

Honestly! I promise!

And then sifting through the dust and detritus with all the studied care of an archaeologist going through a spoil heap. I told her – if she finds any Iron Age pottery shards in there we’ll have to call Time Team in.

But, I suppose, why not? The dogs seemed to enjoy the sensation, and if anything’ll get rid of the little nasties it’s Susie’s industrial strength juggernaut vacuum cleaner.


So when I stop laughing, I’ll probably,,,,,,,,,hang on a moment…….GEMMA WILL YOU STOP BLOODY SCRATCHING!!!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Chacun a son Gout.


On this lovely sunny spring day, I have all the calm serenity of an open-air antique fair in a cloudburst, all the joie-de-vivre of a lovelorn amoeba, and all the affection for my fellow-man of Tom├ís de Torquemada on a bad day in Sevilla when the Inquisition ran out of firelighters. I’m not happy! Bunnywise, I’m positively myxamatotic.

I’ve suddenly morphed from a respectable upright clean-living serious bookseller into a standing joke. While I love, even expect, to be laughed with, I do not, repeat not, like being laughed at! Especially when it’s not my fault, and even more especially when I’m in bloody agony.

So what brought this on?

I woke up yesterday morning with an attack of gout.

Go on, then, all you wannabee comedians – get it out of the way – have a good belly laugh. Call up regiments of red-faced ex-colonels. Do all the Grouse and Vintage Port jokes. However, the only grouse I’ve had lately are not of the edible persuasion, but entirely verbal, and invariably politically inspired. (McBroon and his New Muddle Army, Stasi Britain, Jackboot Jacqui, the wholesale abandonment of our traditions and culture, and all the other festering boils on the bum of a true Englishman) and I’ve barely been near a decanter of Taylor’s 1960 since it was at the “not a drop is sold till it’s almost cold” stage. I love good port, but sad to relate, it’s a love not reciprocated. And besides, if I do occasionally indulge, it’s not so much my foot that rebels, but my head.

So, apart from a chronic heart condition, type 2 diabetes, a small macular hole in my right retina, serious back problems caused by many years of heaving sodding great lumps of elderly furniture in and out of houses and vans , rheumatic knees, elbows and ankles, and all the other heartaches and natural shocks that septuagenarian flesh is heir to, I’ve now got bloody gout. Sod me - I only need piles, toothache and athlete’s foot for the full set!

Although in general, I feel quite good, for my age, in spite of the deliberately non-PC lifestyle I’ve followed avidly for the last 50-odd riotous years, smoking too much, drinking far too much (and far too often) , dining to an extent that would make Lucullus Lucius Lioinius look like Mahatma Gandhi, and indulging in as much similar bodily abuse I could think of wherever and whenever the opportunity arose. Which I made damn sure was as often as possible.

According to the Nazional-Health-Polizei, I have a life-expectancy of about minus thirty years. But what do they know? As they said about Churchill, when he died at 92 or whatever, “It was the cigars and the brandy that killed him, you know”.

Although I still feel about 18 in my head, I have to admit that the old bod is beginning to slow down a bit. I’ve had to give up on any ambition of playing up front for England alongside Wayne Rooney, running the London Marathon dressed as a penguin, or rowing across the Atlantic in a coracle. Especially all at the same time. But as somebody (Maurice Chevalier, I think - I can’t be arsed to look it up) once said when asked what it was like to get old – the alternative is worse.

So I shall grow old disgracefully, with a bit of luck.

Meanwhile I have this nasty tootsie-come-lately on the end of my right foot where my big toe used to be, about the size and shape (and colour, come to think) of a small haggis. And throbbing, visibly. I can’t get a shoe on, (I rarely wear socks, unless I’m going somewhere special, like a Buck House Garden Party or Bow Street Magistrates Court) and even the duvet weighing on my foot is unbearable. This littlepiggy went to pot.

And everybody, notably my nearest-and-not-so-dearest-all-of-a-sudden, is laughing at me.

Oh well – I’ve had the effect, I might as well enjoy the cause. Pass the Port, somebody.