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That Were the Week, That Were - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
That Were the Week, That Were

Zo it were, an’ a pi-unt o’ zoider vor Oi, then, laaan’lord, an’ one vor you-erzelf.


At every house we have had, from urban pied-à-terre to rural holiday bolthole, we’ve had doves appear and stay on, in ever-increasing numbers – in addition, that is to say, to our own doves at home.  My father and I used to credit that to my mother’s influence, noting that doves seemed to follow her as in a mediaeval saint’s vita, a hagiography.


The doves have no doubts.  They flourish and are fat, revelling in the Springtide that they see as unending.


An American friend wrote to me and our correspondence touched upon what may be the true anthem of the United States, particularly in the Spring and the Summer, ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’.  He wondered if there were anything of the sort for cricket.  Well, no, actually, there isn’t, not musically; but there is a lyric component to cricket and the love so many of us feel for it, expressed in much minor poetry – including, in at least one well-known instance, a verse by the former PM, John Major:


Oh, Lord, if I must die today,

Please make it after close of play.

For this I know, if nothing more,

I will not go, without the score.


This, of course, in turn led me to reflect upon that most banal and yet most clamant and regular of themes, death, and specifically the death, recently announced, of one of the most decent chaps in the world, who wrote one of the most humorous, self-effacing, and thoroughly English of autobiographies: John Major’s elder brother, Terry Major-Ball.  Of course, the deaths of Boris Yeltsin and Arthur Milton and Alan Ball made more of a splash, and there are some of us to whom the death of Slava Rostropovich matters immensely, yet there is a sense in which the death of such a chap as TMB is very much a bell tolling, Donne-ishly, marking the passing of a particular sort of Englishness that is increasingly lost.


Or is it lost?  In the past fortnight, I have been on my usual round of visitations to elderly relations (as in, ‘friends-and-relations, Rabbit’s, Hundred Acre Wood’).  One of these, an aging and currently bedridden old fellow who still listens nostalgically for the beat of hooves – he was, after all, in a cavalry regiment, in his day – was much amused by two sights I had committed to memory for his delectation and my own storytelling impulse.  Both involved dogs and the humans who fondly believe themselves their owners.


Whilst on my way to see the old man, I had called in at the Olde Foode Shoppe that the twenty-scone – I mean, ‘stone’ – Baker’s Daughter has created from the family baker’s and teashop, and confronted a sandwich that caused me to fear that the last of Old England was gone with TMB.  It was ‘all compound’ of, firstly, a curried chicken salad, rather like Constance Spry’s ‘Coronation Chicken’ but made to celebrate a Durbar instead, garnished, secondly, with dried cranberries and slivered almonds, and, lastly, served – well, it was to have been served upon this until I rather firmly demanded wholemeal bread – served upon a cinnamon-striated brioche.  Now, ‘fusion’ cuisine may be all the rage – it must be, to have filtered down to our local eateries, doubtless some years after the fad has exploded and been replaced by something new in New York and London – but, damn it, when the only real and enduring legacy of John Montagu (the fourth earl of Sandwich, naturally) is given over to influences from California, the Carnatic, and the Camargue, well, I begin to despair.  (Mind you, there’s much to despair of in these thin and piping times, not least the possibly imminent breaking up of the Union, which will certainly not be averted merely by the effete and ineffective half-efforts of the Louis-Napoleon of Notting Hill, the Rt Hon Mr ‘Dave’ Jeremy Cardhouse Cameron.)


However, having left the Olde Worlde Caff (all but shaking the dust thereof from the soles of my boots), my peter-simple confidence in the endurance of our institutions was restored by the sight of a middle-aged couple taking their three dogs walkies. 


They were a trim and fit couple, the sort of people who believe that aging is optional, the sort whom one can spot at three hundred yards (or the Frog-metric equivalent) as being faithful LibDems, rabid patrons of organic greengrocers, and vocal bien-pensants.  You know: the sort of people whom any decent board of selectors would cap to bore for England.  I’ve no idea for how long they’ve these three dogs, as the dogs were clearly not puppies – one indeed was sedately white-muzzled and had the port and bearing of an old-fashioned butler – yet, surely, they must have known better if the dogs were a longstanding fixture of what they doubtless call their ‘home’; in any event, there they were, the man holding the leads of the retriever and the setter, the woman, a rather smallish person, the lead of the dachshund.  One imagines their conversation before setting out: ‘Darling, let me take the larger dogs, dogs that size will pull, you know...’.


Anyone familiar with The-Dachshund-as-a-Breed will readily imagine what occurred next.  As I passed them, the mature setter and the elderly retriever were progressing in a mannerly fashion, leads slack, pace measured, as the plunging, headlong dachshund, paws churning furiously, lead taut, nose down, a bundle of straining muscle, was moving at a rate of knots, his hapless walker attempting futilely to restrain him or at least to keep her arms in their sockets as she was dragged behind his chariot wheels.


Just three days later, once again near the strange alchemist’s laboratory presided over by the Baker’s Daughter, as I was once more travelling to the hospice to call upon the old man, I saw a variation on this theme.  A young lady in jogging costume – one designed more for show than for use, and, no doubt, effective for its actual end, although I’m hardly the best judge – was finishing some ghastly Americanised coffee-drink.  She was accompanied by – or, perhaps more accurately, ‘accessorised’ with – a vast, gleaming, perfectly groomed Pyrenean Mountain Dog.  Discarding her awful concoction, she turned gracefully, gathering the lead in her dainty hand, and prepared to spurn the earth with flying footsteps.  (There were several young men watching, after all.)  Her dog, very nearly as tall as she and considerably more massive, was not prepared for this: possessed, it would appear, of the temperament of Ferdinand the Bull, was sniffing at a bank of flowers, and disinclined to move.  I trained my face to careful neutrality as I watched her spin like a teetotum, becoming wrapped Laocoon-like in the lead, as her dog regarded her with mild bemusement.  Perhaps it was the effect she was aiming for, after all: as I passed, I saw the young men hastening to her succour. 


Good and great men die.  Decent and unassuming men die.  Golden boys and girls all must, like chimney sweepers, come to dust – the same dust, we are assured by the poets, that hath closed Helen’s eye, the same dust, we are assured by the poets, the location of every grain of which is known to God, who will hiss and whisper and beckon the dust of the saints at the Last Trump.  States and polities die and fail, also; nations pass.


Yet much abides.  The doves have no doubts.  They flourish and are fat, revelling in the Springtide that they see as unending.


We may be sheep amidst wolves; so be it.  Let us then, as Scripture commands, emulate not the serpents only, but also the doves.

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2 comments or Leave a comment
themolesmother From: themolesmother Date: April 30th, 2007 11:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I trained my face to careful neutrality as I watched her spin like a teetotum, becoming wrapped Laocoon-like in the lead, as her dog regarded her with mild bemusement.


Never Fashion Accessorize with children and dogs. They can turn non-cooperation into an art form.

Our Timeshare Dog (a strange mixture of Lhasa Apsu and Fox Terrier) has perfected the art of getting himself and his hapless walker well and truly tangled up in the lead like some bizarre game of cats cradle. Cue much swearing, cursing and untangling while the dog sits there looking as innocent as the day is long.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 2nd, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC) (Link)


And as between dogs (and even children) and those who regard these are mere accessories, I am firmly on the side of the dogs.

Thanks; glad it cheered you. I trust you are well?
2 comments or Leave a comment