Thursday, April 06, 2006

Feast or Famine

I'm a terrible snob. Well, in some respects. I will quite often go without something unless I can have what I perceive to be the best. If I was being kind to myself I would see this as an extension of my perfectionist tendencies, but that would be to assume that I had any. As it is, I just have to accept it as a major character flaw and try to work around it.

I was probably worst when I was a teenager (weren't we all?) I remember one Christmas pestering my parents for a Barbour waxed cotton jacket. These things aren't cheap now, and they weren't cheap back then, but they were the best, some of my friends had them, and I wanted one too.

Christmas came and the suspiciously squishy but weighty present with my name on it was duly ripped open to reveal... A waxed cotton jacket that wasn't a Barbour!

To this day, whenever I remember the incident, I cringe in embarrassment at how ungrateful and surly I was. Sure, it's expected of a teenager, but that doesn't make it OK. Worse still, I spent the whole Christmas period dropping not very subtle hints until my mother finally caved in, went back to the shop and exchanged the ersatz jacket for the real thing. I must have kept my lovely Barbour for almost fifteen years, long after I'd grown out of it. The Horse Doctor used to wear it when we first started going out together, and I eventually passed it on to my niece when she was big enough for it to fit her. For all I know it's probably still going strong nearly twenty-five years on.

Quality lasts, you see. At least that's the excuse I tell myself when I'm trying to justify spending more money than I've got on something I don't really need. Or more often these days in not buying the cheap copy, which would work just fine, because I can't afford what I've persuaded myself I really need.

Now what I'd never expected was that this terrible personality flaw would rub off on my dog. You see, Chiswick has developed an annoying trait in his old age. He won't eat dog food.

He's always been a fussy eater; as a pup he was the runt of the litter because all the others beat him to the teat. I've a photo of them all in the doggy bed, plugged into mum Tess, except for an unmistakeably marked Chiswick who has crawled away to one corner in a huff. It's almost as if I can hear him muttering: 'well, if I can't have the second one down on the left hand side, I don't want any!'

He was all right when he was the only dog; we could just leave his food down all day and he'd help himself whenever he wanted to. I was brought up by Dachshunds and Labradors, so a dog that didn't immediately scoff anything and everything put in front of him took a bit of getting used to. Still, he was cheap to feed.

Then we got Mortimer, and for a while Chiswick grew fat on puppy food. Then the DevilDog graduated to the normal stuff and the two of them settled into an amicable ad-lib feeding arrangement. This lasted for three years, until the arrival of Macrahanish, the Dachshund.

Now Mackerel* is what my mother would call a 'good doer.' Which is to say that if it can be eaten, he will eat it. In fact, edibility is not really an important consideration as far as he is concerned. Notable degustations include my brand new mountain bike boots (still in their box), innumerable dog towels, the sofa cushion covers, an entire doormat and a floppy disc containing an early draft of the Horse Doctor's PhD thesis. And this was just while he was still a puppy. Later years have seen him develop a more sophisticated and restrained palate, but every so often he reverts to type - usually when left on his own for an evening.

So the ad-lib feeding regime had to end in 1998, much to Chiswick's disgust. I'm fairly certain he's been in a slump ever since, but things came to a head when I left him with my parents whilst the Horse Doctor and I spent six weeks in Australia and New Zealand at the end of last year. By the time we got back, Chiswick has lost almost all his hair, he was about a half of his normal weight (itself not exactly solid) and the vet reckoned he might make it to Christmas, but really we ought to think about digging a very small hole.

Through a miracle of perseverance (and a syringe of vitamins down the throat every morning) we managed to bring him back from the brink. I began feeding him porridge and bread soaked in warm milk - anything to increase his carb and fat intake. And it started to work. Slowly he began to regain strength until he could actually manage to get out through the dog-flap** and into the garden to have a crap. Previously he'd been favouring the middle of the kitchen floor, which at least has the benefit of being easy-wipe. By the middle of January, I really thought that he had turned the corner.

Then he stopped eating the porridge. I tried him on moist dogfood - no joy. Tinned meat - nope. Small bite dried food formulated for fussy little jack russel terriers - you've got to be kidding. He simply wouldn't eat anything we put in front of him and began to fade away in front of our eyes.

Then the Horse Doctor had to go to a meeting in Wolverhampton. Traditionally such trips are rounded off with a visit to Sainsbury's and the purchase of pizza. It's sad, I know, but you just can't get a good pizza from any of our local supermarkets, and the so-called pizza restaurant in Aberystwyth, the unconvincingly named Hollywood Pizza, is a joke.

So there we were one evening, me with my Sloppy Giuseppe, the Horse Doctor with her Stuffed Crust Hawaiian, when a weakened little dog dragged himself out of his death bed, stumbled across the room, waited on legs trembling with weakness until he was sure he had our attention, then very deliberately sat down on his arse.

This is Mortimer's trick, not Chiswick's. The DevilDog knows that when he wants something, he sits. My dad falls for it every time - he can't get over a terrier that has actually been trained to do something, however small. Mort gets a lot of cheese from my dad.

And now apparently Chiswick has learnt the trick too. Just to make certain we hadn't misunderstood, he got himself back up onto his unsteady legs, then very deliberately sat himself down again. His expression said it all: 'I've done my bit. Now it's your turn.'

He wanted something.

He wanted pizza.

So I gave him some pizza, and he scoffed it down like a dachshund. I gave him some more. It disappeared as if the pizza fairies were back in town. In the end he gorged himself on cheesy, bready, garlicky goodness until his stomach bulged and gurgled painfully. Then he wobbled off to his bed and slept for twenty-four hours.

The next time he showed any signs of life, I offered him his normal food. Such a look of incredulous distaste I have never seen before. Poncey French waiters could not master that sneer. I would be more considerate of something on the underside of my shoe.

It was then that I realised my mistake. When he was still just a puppy, back when we lived in Aberdeen, I had allowed Chiswick the scrapings from the pizza box. As I was at the time working in an Off Licence Wine Merchants, and didn't finish until 10 most nights, pizza back then was my staple food. There was a fine pizza shop just across the road from our flat as well, which didn't help. Impressionable and fussy, young Chiswick had decided that this was the only foodstuff fit for his consumption.

I can only assume that, as he has aged, so his food snobbery has increased to the point where he will happily starve himself to death rather then eat anything that's not pizza.

There are no pink elephants in this picture

Let's hope I don't get that bad when I'm old and senile.

* Dogs cannot have just one name, there's a rule somewhere about it. Chiswick is also known as chibbly, big ears or Mr Stinks of Piss*** Mortimer is the DevilDog, but is more commonly known as Mr Fish (for reasons no-one has ever explained), and Mac is Squashy, Mr Sausage or if you're being formal, George Squashington.
** I know it sounds really rude, but that's what it is - a flap in the back door through which the dogs can come and go.
*** Of which more later.


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

We haven't made much of a mistake with our boys, except for two items.

1. Tuna. Chinook loves tuna. Noot is less discriminating, though he enjoys it as well. It's a huge treat for them. Which is baffling to me, because in nature a dog wouldn't ever hunt a tuna for dinner.

2. Bacon. When we go out for breakfast, if we have the boys, we sometimes give them a little bit of bacon. Which they love.

But pizza? That's a new one. Although I caught Buttons eating Kevin's lasagne the other day. I got her away from it before he got there so he wasn't put off his dinner.

April 06, 2006 4:34 pm  
Blogger Stuart MacBride said...

Chibbly deserves Pizza - he's old and wobbly. When I'm that old and wobbly I want people feeding me pizza, not crappy dog food. Don't you?

April 07, 2006 9:30 am  

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