Everything before ‘but’ is bollocks. Dan taught me that.
Dan was a Canadian major attached to my battalion in Hong Kong in 1980, and he also taught us that, in his dictionary, ‘sympathy’ came between ‘shit’ and ‘syphillis’. As you can see, Dan had a way with words.
Dan was right about the ‘but’ thing. For the last 40 years I have clung onto that notion like a banner, and it has rarely let me down. I have on my desk a receipt for £100.86 that proves it.
Boris, the number 2 dog, is unwell. He is, as they say, ‘active at both ends’, having eaten some decayed creature out in the woods that even his own Spartan digestive system can’t cope with. As a consequence, Caroline and I are playing the old LHS (Late Home Coming Syndrome) game by which we each try to get home from work, or down from sleeping, after the other, so as not to risk being first on the scene. In this respect, a quick shop-up in Budgens can take an hour or so and even a walk to the post box can stretch out for 20 minutes.
Being a responsible dog owner, I finally took Boris to the vet. We love vets. All vets are nice. Yesterday’s, who I think was a locum, was so nice that I wanted to ask her to marry one of my sons on the spot. She had an intern working with her who was even nicer, if that was possible, and the two of them looked at Boris with the eye of love and concern, admiring, prodding and loving him long before they started to make him better.
We entered that Narnian world of medical vocabulary, where words like ‘stool, ‘motion’ and foreign body’ tripped out of their mouths like they were perfumes they happened to sell out the back. They asked me in terms of great delicateness what seemed to be the problem, and I searched the great lexicon in the back of my mind to come up with acceptable descriptions of what had been happening to him over the last 48 hours of so. The words we routinely used at home somehow didn’t seem appropriate.
‘Poor old thing,’ they said to him warmly. ‘How is he in himself?’. I found that I wanted to give an answer that was close to medically honest without being potentially ruinous in the wallet department. He just sat there, shivering and looking as ill as he could manage.
‘His nose seems nice and wet, his eyes are sparkling, and you say that he is still drinking normally?’ The ‘but’ was coming. I knew it. They knew it. Even Boris knew it.
‘Oh yes.’ I said rather too quickly. ‘Very normally’
‘What are we going to do with you?’ they asked him, but he just sat on the cold operating table shivering miserably, waiting, like I was, for the diagnosis. For all his revolting habits, I love that old fleabag, and really don’t want bad things to happen to him.
‘We could do one of two things,’ she went on, talking to Boris, rather than me. ‘We could just send you home, and see what happens with a couple of days of rice. Or we could give you an anti-emetic injection (ker-ching!), a bit of probiotic paste (ker-ching!) and a short course of anti-biotics (ker-ching!). Translated this meant: ‘If you’re a cheapskate and aren’t too fussed if the dog dies, then head off home. But if you love him as much as you say you do, then what difference to your life will this tiny little investment opportunity make.’ All I could think about was asking if the pro-biotic and anti-biotic couldn’t cancel each other out, and save a few bob that way.
‘Let’s do it, ‘I said, much as Theresa May must say when they tell her Jacob Rees-Mogg is downstairs waiting to see her. And so we did it.
And she congratulated Boris for being quite the nicest dog that she had had in all day, and told him to mind what he ate in future with the voice of one who really believed that he might.
‘We could go for a nice walk when we get home,’ I said to him once he had leapt nimbly and cheerfully back onto the passenger seat of the car. ‘But…..’