the dirty half dozen

The label under the doorbell says Rogers, but should more accurately read: Press Here to Summon Hell Hounds.
I’ve never in my life heard such a cacophony of howls and snarls and shrieks and growls. It’s completely terrifying. And I like dogs.
‘Just a minute’ says a voice deep within the house, followed by a series of muted crashes and curses, culminating in one last, indignant yelp as a door is slammed shut. A large, slow figure lumbers into view beyond the frosted glass. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone dressed like a bomb-disposal expert; instead, I’m greeted by an elderly man in shirt and braces, pleasantly smiling, with the insouciant glow of a man called in from the potting shed.
‘Don’t mind them,’ he says, gently swiping back into place the one strand of silver hair that had come adrift. ‘They’re all mouth and no trousers.’
He leads me through the house to the little back bedroom, by-passing the sitting room door. The dogs on the other side press their noses to the gap at the bottom sniffing so emphatically it’s actually hard to make progress in the other direction.
‘What breed are they?’ I ask him.
‘A Bichon Frise and five Chihuahuas,’ he says.
‘Wow! Sounds like more!’
‘I’m glad it’s not.’
He leads me through to his wife, who – incredibly – is still asleep in bed.
‘Margaret? Margaret!’  he says.

*

Margaret submits to my examination with a passivity born of exhaustion. She’s had enough – the illness, the attention, the disruption her illness has brought. We chat about dogs and she perks up.
‘I don’t mind if you let them through,’ I tell her.
‘They’re a bit of a pain,’ she says.
‘I’ll be alright.’
‘If you’re sure’
‘Absolutely.’
She shouts for her husband, there’s a brief pause, and then six dogs race into the bedroom.

I’ve never known a pack operate with such precision. They’re a crack unit, a crazy band of volunteers living on the edge with nothing to lose. The Chihuahuas do all the running; the Bichon hangs back. A grizzled veteran with the outraged expression of a Five Star General whose just swallowed his last cigar, he directs operations while the Chihuahuas fly around me. They throw themselves head first into my rucksack, run off with my steth, sniff my trousers, lick my face, jump on my lap, circle my chair, round and round and round. Watch your flank! the Bichon says, sitting next to Mrs Rogers, paddling his cute little paws up and down. He’s on to you! Pull out, man! Pull out! The Chihuahuas become even more frantic. Their ears are so fluffy, I could be in the middle of a flock of exotic birds, except now and again I find myself interrogated nose to nose by a pair of raisin eyes.
‘Suki! Put him down!’ snaps Mrs Rogers. ‘Sorry! But you did say to let them through…’

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