Me and my pet
Rebecca Armstrong meets the style guru who fell for a guinea pig, the burlesque performer who loves to show off her favourite asset, the art critic who can't resist a rescue dog ... and the actor who knows all about animals behaving badly
Saturday 24 May 2008
Robert Elms, 48, is a writer and broadcaster who lives in London with his wife, Christina, their children, Alice, Alfie and Maude, and two guinea pigs.
I've never been a particularly pro-pet person: I'm very much an urban soul and I'm really not convinced that animals and cities go all that well together. But when you have kids you have an almost constant barrage of "Can we get pets? Can we get pets?" For years I just said "No", or told them they could have a pet rock or cardboard box. At one point I did buy Alfie, when he was about three, a stone tortoise and told him it was the real thing. He used to go out to the garden and feed it but after a while he realised I'd been lying to him. About 18 months ago I finally gave in to my daughter Maude and said she could get a guinea pig. We ended up buying a ginger one and a black one and Maude named them Hazelnut and Midnight. But I've always just called them "Them Girls" because they're both females. First of all we bought them a little house to live in that wasn't very nice and, me being a sucker for these things, we ended up getting a specially commissioned house. For the first three weeks Maude showed a fairly high degree of interest in them, until she realised that they didn't do any tricks or learn to speak English. They're a pretty basic animal and only do about four things, most of which you have to clear up afterwards so there isn't that much entertainment value in them. Maude soon forgot about the pair entirely so now I look after them. But I have developed rather an affection for them and I particularly like Hazelnut, the ginger one, because I'm ginger myself and I know how she feels. She's also the less nervous of the two so she's usually the first one to come and get her food; she makes a slightly plangent chirrup. I always make sure they've got nice fresh food as well as their dried food – what they like most, like good middle-class girls, is parsley and coriander. I worked that out by trial and error. I rather stupidly care for them a bit more than I should. I never would have imagined, as style editor of 'The Face' or whatever, that I would end up being the guardian of guinea pigs, but they're quite charming in their way. My wife always says, "Are you with Them Girls again?" She does get slightly jealous.
Immodesty Blaize, 29, is a burlesque dancer. She was crowned Miss Exotic World at the Las Vegas Burlesque Hall of Fame last year. She lives in London with her dog Nifty.
Nifty is a miniature Yorkshire terrier who is about five years old. I've always had dogs, I had lots of Jack Russells when I was a child but Nifty is by far the smallest dog I've had. I've just measured her from end to end and she is 10 inches. She's quite a walker – she's got legs and she has to use them. She likes to chase pigeons and squirrels and things like that, which is why she's called Nifty. She's very fast. I don't like carrying her around; she needs to run about. Sometimes if I take her for a walk and it's really busy, a lot of people don't actually see her so I have to pick her up because she might get squashed. I have her on stage to pick up my stockings sometimes, because ever since she was a puppy she has just loved stockings. She makes a beeline for them. I think she's read the rule book on how to be a Yorkie in that she's bloody fussy – she only picks up Wolford stockings so she's obviously got a quality control setting. Everything about her is fussy. I do spoil her, I can't help it. Her favourite treat is bacon and she has an enormous toy collection. I don't like to make Nifty look ridiculous but she does have stage outfits – so she has a little diamanté hoodie and a little diamond harness and I have roses to put around her neck. I like the idea of a Twenties circus dog rather than anything that's a bit too Paris Hilton. I won't be putting Nifty into any Juicy Couture tracksuits any time soon. Nifty isn't nippy but the one thing that she hates is going to the groomers. She digs her claws in but she always comes out looking beautiful. I like to take her for regular haircuts to keep her looking cute. She's like a kid, she hates having her hair cut. Nifty is a buddy, not a pet. She's funny, incredibly cheeky and she cheers me up if I'm tired at the end of the day. She's good entertainment and very good company. Plus she's the cherry on the cake when I finish my act – a little dwarf who comes out to pick up my stockings.
Martin Clunes, 46, is an actor and comedian. He lives in Dorset with his wife Philippa and daughter Emily and their horses, chickens, three dogs and a cat. His new series, 'A Man and His Dogs', will appear on ITV this summer.
Mary Elizabeth Clunes is the oldest of our dogs. She's a golden cocker spaniel and is the senior player in our family. When she was a puppy she had to have massive operations to fix her hips and knees, which meant she got a bit spoilt. She's 10 now, loathes vets and particularly likes people that she knew before her operation. She's not very tolerant with my daughter Emily, who's eight. We got another cocker spaniel for Emily, called Tina Audrey. We also have a black Labrador puppy, Arthur Colin, who is 10 months old. He's fantastic but he has chewed through the carpet. And through the underfelt and into the floor of the cottage we're camped in at the moment while our house is being rebuilt. With three dogs there's a lot of walking, but we've got quite a lot of land so they are all pretty fit. I had a dog when I was growing up and I had one as an adult, before I got Mary Elizabeth. My wife grew up with cocker spaniels and while I would put up with any dog, she wanted to keep the cocker spaniel thing going. I'm glad we did because they really are lovely dogs. We don't spoil them with food, just with love. Mary sleeps with us upstairs although Arthur isn't allowed. Tina is allowed upstairs but chooses to sleep downstairs with Arthur. We've made a rod for our own backs in that there's a two-tier system whereby Mary is treated like royalty and the rest of us scrabble around for what's left. She's top dog. The feeding routine in the mornings is chickens, cat, daughter, dogs, horses.
Brian Sewell, 76, is an award-winning art critic and journalist. He lives in London with his dogs Jack, Winck and Lottie.
The lovely Lottie is a cross between a God-knows-what and a Staffordshire bull terrier. I think she's about a year old. She was called Heather and I wanted to call her Schadenfreude but she ended up being Lottie. For some decades now I've been getting my dogs from the Mayhew Animal Home and Lottie is number four. The last time I went there I knew exactly what I wanted, which was a large brown dog, like a Rhodesian ridgeback or a Hungarian pointer. They did get a large brown dog in but she was so big and strong ... I'm in my late seventies and I just thought, "God, I can't." I took my Alsatian, Winck, with me and we came across Lottie who was clearly in the most desperate need. She'd been tied to the railings of the home overnight and was very cowed. She has a hideous bloodshot eye that's always off on a trip of its own. I thought she was probably the dog that would never be taken so I said, "Sod it, never mind my big brown dog, I'll take her home." She's settled in fine. All my dogs sleep on the bed and once you get dogs sleeping together you know that everything is going to be all right. Dogs are wonderful because they don't care what one looks like first thing in the morning and they're easy to live with. Lottie is as mad as a hatter and she's turned into something desperately affectionate. From running away every time I said, "Boo", she's now all over me and spends an enormous amount of time on her hind legs holding on to me with her forepaws and pretending to be a three-year-old child. She is by a huge margin the ugliest dog I've ever had, if not the ugliest I've ever seen. But she's very engaging.
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