Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

As Jane's Jack Russell obsession grew, and my resistance increased, she stitched me up like the proverbial Arbroath smokie by asking at the dinner table one evening, "Who thinks we should have a Jack Russell?" Naturally, the children's hands all shot into the air, and three pairs of guileless, pleading eyes, plus one pair of cunning, knowing ones, turned on me. It would have been churlish and Victorian to say "I absolutely forbid it!" so I said "I absolutely forbid it!" But you don't get anywhere when you forbid things without being at all forbidding. Jane duly answered an advert in the Hereford Times, and two days and £150 later, Paddy was ours.

He had already been christened Paddy, which was fortunate, because when you name a pet hereabouts you have to take three things into consideration. One, do you know any humans with the same name? When we named our golden retriever Milo, we didn't know we were destined to become close to a woman called Avril, whose teenage son is also a Milo. So when Jane and Avril go for a walk with Milo, and Avril's dog Hugo, and Jane shouts "For God's sake Milo, stop rolling in that cowpat!", Avril always gives an involuntary wince.

You also need to consider what you will sound like when you call your pet's name repeatedly in Mortimer Forest. The best-known cry in Mortimer Forest is not that of a baby rabbit caught by a buzzard, or of a fawn stuck in some brambles, but of a woman calling "Roger!" over and over again. Everyone who walks their dog in Mortimer Forest is familiar with the Roger cry. And whereas some human names work with dogs, some don't. I think Paddy works, as does Hugo, but Roger, like Keith, Colin and indeed Brian, is all wrong. Unless of course he was named Roger ironically, on account of his predilection for rogering people's lower legs and small pieces of furniture. But Roger's owner doesn't sound like an ironic kind of woman.

The third consideration when you give your pet a name is whether you will feel faintly ridiculous in the reception area of the veterinary surgery. Frank Bruno's ex-wife Laura once took the family Rottweiler to see the vet, and when she was asked for her name she said Bruno. The receptionist gave a long-suffering sigh. "No," she said. "I mean your name, not the dog's."

On the other hand, I have related before the story of our friend James, who once took his cat Meaty to the surgery and registered with the receptionist, but then had to endure a self-conscious walk across the waiting-room having been called as "Mr Meaty".

And even when there is no misunderstanding, pets' names can lead to stifled giggles. The other day Jane was waiting with Paddy, who was due to be inoculated against something or other - me, probably - when the vet came out and said, "Mrs Harrison, you can collect Big Daddy now." Marvellous.

As for Paddy, I have to admit that I have found room for him in my heart, as well as on the bottom of my shoe. In fairness I would run no risk at all of walking through his fairly inoffensive turds if I wasn't looking up all the time, wondering when the next bit of ceiling will cave in. The extraordinary rain we had last week exacerbated an occasional drip through a crack in the landing ceiling, and before we could say "home insurance" about a ton of plaster came crashing down. Life is never dull in the country.

Tales of the Country, by Brian Viner, is on sale now (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

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