The turn of the year did not witness many resolutions, still less successful ones. No surprise here, being the first new year under the endless lockdown mentality, although the perennials of dry January and committing to lose weight remain worthy of mention. Much more heart-warming was the long-awaited arrival of Maisie the Rottweiler from Battersea Dogs Home to live with Ella and Sam. Maisie’s story was filmed for Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, featuring interviews with Ella and Sam; it will be on TV in April. I have always liked rottweilers. I despaired when they became Threats to Public Safety after a malicious Daily Mail crusade in the 1990s which led directly to panic in public parks whenever a rottweiler or pit bull was seen joyously off the lead. At that time I was asked by Campaign magazine for my choice of the worst legislation passed by the UK Parliament (remember them?). Instead of choosing anything banning advertising I identified the Dangerous Dogs Act as the clear winner. The original Act made it an offence to own a dog if someone had ‘reasonable apprehension’ that the dog might bite them. It also made whole dog breeds illegal and liable to be killed on sight, including any dog which ‘looked like’ a pit bull. On trying to find the original Campaign feature on Google I discovered that in 2016, one Alison Stanbrook, 45, hailing from Winchester, was convicted under the Act when her dog bit a toddler from next door. I had to read to the end of the story to find that the slavering mad child-killer was a cocker spaniel.
Fortunately, Maisie’s breed is not covered by that relentlessly stupid Act. The Rottweiler is a loyal and family-focussed dog with enormous energy and strength which, on its first appearance at Crufts, was called the ‘smiling dog’. Maisie seems not to have had enough company in her first year of life, and is suddenly experiencing much of the world with the eyes of a child and the momentum of an ox. She was lunging suddenly at passing vans before starting to calm down under strict training from Ella and Sam. Now she is surrounded by attention from everyone. Ella and Sam already adore her. Alli and I have been helping the canine socialisation by walking Bonnie and Max in the afternoons near Maisie on a lead. On one visit to see her with the dogs I walked past the front of a workman’s white van which, although parked, immediately started hooting urgently and repeatedly at us as if we were bothering the driver in some way. Looking more closely at the front of the van, I saw a small pug on its hind legs standing on the front seat, in the grip of canine road rage, glaring at us and repeatedly pounding the horn with its front paws. Although I couldn’t stop laughing, Bonnie and Max gave the pug an unmistakable look of long-suffering comradeship.
A revolution has occurred in our ultra-conservative household. After months of petition and enquiry, the management has conditionally given approval to the procurement department to transition the food provider. This has ended Alli’s twice weekly two-hour pilgrimages to an increasingly Covid-careless Waitrose. We now have smart and regular deliveries by personally protected and masked van drivers from Sainsbury’s. Apart from the gift of five clear hours a week to Alli’s mental health we are now saving several hundreds of pounds per month on our shopping. The products bought in most cases are identical and the packaging is less likely to be infected, although of course our local social status has taken a hit (I will never get to be Deputy Lieutenant). The main argument for Waitrose was that their staff were very helpful when you asked for directions after wandering around for hours looking for aubergine molasses. But this factor disappears against a scheduled delivery by cheerful moustachioed Captain Haddocks who don’t even want you to help pack the items into your own bags. Our defence against the virus has been improved and Nanny and Grandpa’s first vaccinations have also raised our longer-term optimism.
I am seeing a local chiropractor who is starting to release long-clenched tensions in my neck and back. She also recommends winding a tight scarf around my neck whenever I’m outside. But the weather has made exercise outings even more difficult than usual. I slither on sodden walks with the dogs, providing the only new details each day. When Jessie managed to sell on ebay a broken fruit machine that had been cluttering our limited living space, I took the opportunity to create an office, separated from the lazy allure of on-screen entertainment, and incorporating my Christmas gifts of an office chair and a printer. Returning from Batchelors Farm meadows one morning I checked my step counter and saw that instead of the expected 6,000 steps or so that indicated a reasonable exercise, the counter had suddenly clicked up an unlikely 30,000 steps. I hadn’t even been waving the thing around as I walked. The fake reading is now consolidated into the system, making my week and month look a lot better by several country miles. ‘I have no idea how to correct it’. One afternoon we had a fine hour-long walk along the swollen Adur from Henfield as the declining winter sun burnished the flooded valley. I was on a new and popular all-weather link path for walkers, whose conversion and maintenance from a defunct railway line was funded by the EU. No longer.
Yours in lockstep,