I'd better tell you about Boy first. He was Uncle Archie's dog, a big, friendly, black mongrel, mainly labrador with a touch of collie, I think, who arrived one morning unannounced at Uncle Archie's door and moved in. For some inexplicable reason, I liked Boy. I say this because my aversion to most of the canine species, apart from guide dogs and working sheep dogs, is well known. It was yours truly, back in the early Eighties, who started the pressure group Stop Hounds in Towns for obvious acronymic reasons, but that was because I had small children who didn't look where they were going. Getting them to school every morning with clean shoes was a nightmare. One of Shit's more radical aims was to make it compulsory for all dogs to wear licence plates like cars, possibly branded on to their foreheads and backsides with hot irons. That way, at least, you could take their number and report them.
Sorry, I'm getting carried away. I was telling you why I liked Boy, Uncle Archie's big, black dog, so much. Well, for a start they lived in the country and I have no quarrel with the rural dog. The other thing about Boy was that he knew his place. He didn't leap up at you, two paws on your shoulders, malodorous breath panting in your face, demanding attention. Nor did he roll over on his back in that revolting way dogs wave their legs in the air and expect to be tickled. He was a grave dog with wise eyes who spent most of his time sitting quietly at his master's feet while Uncle Archie read The Daily Telegraph from cover to cover in a Georgian winged chair, rising only to pour himself another pink gin.
When Uncle Archie died, my mother, who had by now moved into a brand new granny annexe in our tiny, roses-round-the-front-door country cottage, offered to have Boy as a guard dog. Living alone in an isolated wood made her nervous. It was not enough to install iron bars and triple-glazing at every mullioned window, or Colditz-style searchlights on every chimney pot. She wanted a dog who would bark at intruders, maybe even bite them.
That is when I realised the other reason I liked Boy so much. He never barked. I don't believe that he knew how. When the bulky, black, menacing figure of the coal woman appeared at the window to ask how many tons of best quality smokeless my mother had ordered (yes, we had a coal woman, not a coalman, though you'd have been hard pressed to tell the difference), Boy didn't budge. Grave and wise-eyed, he sat at my mother's feet as she read The Daily Telegraph from cover to cover in her Ikea rocking chair, rising only to pour herself another cup of tea.
And then last summer Boy died peacefully in his sleep. Inconsolable, my mother buried him under the apple tree and took the first train to London and Battersea Dogs Home to find a substitute. His name was Lucky and he was, by all accounts (I never met him) a lovable and loving dog, so loving in fact that whenever my mother moved out of his sight - to have a bath, for instance - he chewed everything at hand until she returned. He had amazing teeth. Curtains, coal, tables, televisions, irons, Hoovers: he chewed the lot. In the end, my mother had to take him everywhere with her and even then it didn't always work. Keeping vigil beside her bath, he would absentmindedly start chewing the soap.
The final straw was when my mother left him in the car for half an hour while visiting a friend who is allergic to dogs. On her return, she found Lucky finishing off the last seat-belt, having demolished the seats down to their springs and pretty much everything else except for the sticker on the rear window saying "I have given a home to a Battersea dog", at which a small crowd of onlookers were peering with interest. Lucky was taken reluctantly back to Battersea and my mother, as I said earlier, is now desperate for another dog.
So where's that birthday card? Wanted, one sickeningly cute mongrel puppy with helmet.