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Of Englishmen and dogs, of Beverley and Whoops

We wrote the other day -

One obvious difference between uncivilised societies and civilised societies is this: Uncivilised societies do not like dogs and treat them horribly. They don't treat cats any better, and we think it's fair to both animals to say that the happy dog and the complacent cat are signs that civilisation is close. And love is closer.

The other day two boxes of books arrived from an old bookcase. A Thatched Roof, 1933, by Beverley Nichols was among them. We've quoted part of a chapter where Beverley talks about his dog Whoops, not to make a point, but because we hoped it would bring a smile to your face.

. . .What sort of a dog is he? Now, is that a very tactful question? Can't you see he is a quite unique sort of dog, with a style of his own? You do see that, but you can't make out what he is? Really, you shouldn't ask such questions. Dogs always know when they are being discussed, and it embarrasses them. Being essentially manly and British - I always feel that England is the spiritual home of all good dogs - they don't like being discussed. Honestly, it isn't done, they say. And they slink off, with that terrible humility which dogs have, and sit under the table, and prop their chins on their paws, and look at you, more in sorrow than in anger, until you have remembered your manners again. You should always be much more careful about what you say in front of dogs than about what you say in front of people. Dogs understand the subtleties of language so much more acutely than men. You can't fool them with bright words when your throat is dry and your heart is aching.

But you still want to know what he is? All right. You had better hear the awful truth. Lean forward a bit. You didn't hear? Well. . .come closer. He is a mixture between a poodle and a chow.

All right. Laugh away. I don't care. . .You can keep your aristocratic dogs. Give me a mongrel.

What was that? A growl from under the table? Good Lord. . .I'd forgotten that Whoops was listening. We had better apologize quickly. . .

Beverley goes on to explain that Whoops was the son of Lulu, "the largest, woolliest, most diabolically attractive poodle that the world has ever known" and the chow that sat so impressively on the steps of the Chinese Embassy. When Whoops was born he was -

A little black bundle of poodle, with a huge chow tail, arched over his back like a pennant. . .and yet a tail that was not quite sure of itself, liable to dejected trailings at the least harsh word. . .He was very frightened, very wooly, and very small on the day that I called at Grosvenor Square to fetch him. He followed the butler up the stairs, stood for a moment trembling, caught sight of me and dashed away again. This happened several times. Each time that he saw me he flew like the wind, and took refuge under the kitchen table, where he stayed, wagging his tail feverishly, but not at all happily, lifting one paw as though to shield himself.

I had hoped that he would follow me. But no! He had to be dragged towards me, sliding over the marble pavement as though he were being led to the slaughter. I bent down and stroked him. He was trembling violently. Then I put him on the lead.

'Dog,' I said softly, for he no name, 'dog, please come along, we are going to the country, d'you hear? To the country, grass and trees and hedges with rabbits in them.'

But Whoops only looked round with an imploring expression at his friend the butler, asking him when this misery would end.

At last I got him outside. We had about half a mile to walk to Berkeley Street, where the car was parked. It was so muddy a day that I could not carry him. He had to be half pushed and half pulled. The pushing was easier than the pulling, because when he was pulled at all hard he spread out his four legs and slid, making terrible choking noises.

. . .The streets were crowded, and the people who passed me on the pavement glared at me as though I were a child-murderer. 'Poor little dog,' they said, audibly. 'It's a shame.' I began to grow purple in the face, looked round wildly for a taxi. None came. We crawled on breathlessly, by inches. If it was possible for Whoops to entangle himself in a passer-by he did so. He would dart off to the side just as I thought we had established some sort of forward movement, and the lead would be stretched tight in front of some hurrying female, who had to leap into the air in order to avoid it. And all the time I had to force an agonized smile to my face and mutter things about 'just a puppy, going to the country, only had him today, terribly sorry.'

. . .At last we reached the car. Ignoring the mud, I lifted Whoops up, and put him on the seat. He immediately scrambled off it, and cowered on the floor. I leant down to pat him, but it brought on such an access of trembling that I gave it up.

Sadly the car began to thread its way through the maze of streets that lead to the Great North Road. I felt depressed and humiliated. 'It would have been better,' I said to myself 'to stick to cats.'

Look upon that picture, and on this.

It is six months later. . . The car swerves through the country gate, into the wooden garage, and stops, in semi-darkness. I switch the engine off. For a moment there is silence. And then there is a scurry over the gravel, and two shaggy paws pounce on the window ledge. They are immediately followed by a rough black face, from which shine great brown eyes, illuminated by an expression of rapture more fit to be lavished on angels than on men.

What had caused this amazing change? God knows. I had been no kinder to him than any other [English] master would have been. I had just taken him round, and introduced him to the country, and told him not to be so silly and frightened. . .told him that the fat thrushes hopping about after worms would not hurt him, but that he should beware of the bees, whom he used to sniff so tenderly. I had taught him to come when he was called, and to stay at my heels when we were on the road and the village Ford was approaching. Not much to do for a dog, but then, you see, I loved him, in spite of his early coldness, and perhaps a little of my love found an answering note in his queer heart. . .

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