A stop off – Meeting Amelia – A Good Long Stretch – Groomers’ Perks & Quirks – Gender Identity – Queen Victoria vs. Gladstone – Mean Bones and How to Spot Them – Rescues take Patience
En route to the coast for a short break we take a detour to see my mum. The whole visit gets quite a build up. Mum’s keen to meet Stan, but she’s a little anxious, too. She’s been reading the blog and knows he can be a handful. She’s worried he won’t get along with her dog, Amelia, a miniature Schnauzer with a big personality, a dog who’s taken on such mythic proportions since mum got her a few years ago, I wouldn’t be surprised to be met at the door by a particularly hairy woman in a peaked cap, holding out a paw, demanding to see our papers.
We make it to mum’s in good time. The girls have made brownies and cinnamon biscuits, so we take them out into the garden to have them with mugs of tea, sitting under the porch awning when it starts to rain a little. Stanley stretches out on the grass, sighing theatrically, extending his legs like his paws are on invisible strings and there’s about another three feet of leg in there somewhere. He’s been cooped up in the car for hours, apart from a brief stop for coffee and a comfort break. Somehow we’d ended up in a dodgy tributary of the motorway services, the car park of an abandoned motel, pulling up next to a pile of soft toys fly-tipped on the verge, like some other family were forced to off-load all sentiment to have any hope of completing their trip. But I don’t believe in omens. Just coffee.
Amelia keeps a close watch on him from behind mum’s recliner.
‘The woman who grooms Amelia is so good,’ says mum. ‘She’s won competitions. Even taught grooming. But she only charges twenty five quid, which I have to say is pretty reasonable. Don’t you?’
‘Sounds about right.’
‘Stanley would cost more because he’s bigger. Does he shed?’
‘Yeah – he does. Especially in the summer.’
‘Amelia doesn’t shed. I couldn’t have a dog that sheds. Because of the asthma. Is she a lurcher?’
‘He. Stanley’s a male lurcher.’
‘But she’s got such long legs.’
‘He. He’s a he. Yeah – a lot of them do. Depends what he’s crossed with. Maybe a gantry crane.’
‘More like a labrador.’
Between you and me, though, I have to say, despite the groomer having won the Nobel prize for grooming or something, Amelia looks a little bottom heavy, a thick frill running all the way around the middle. When she walks it kicks up like a Victorian crinoline skirt. With that grumpy and beetling frown on her face, she even looks a bit like Queen Victoria, hurrying across the croquet lawn to take a swing at Gladstone with a mallet.
‘Amelia is so friendly with other dogs,’ says mum. ‘She’s a bit put out she can’t just go up to Stanley and be friends.’
‘It’s not Amelia, though, mum – it’s Stan. He’s had nine years of neglect, don’t forget. His legs were so deconditioned he could barely walk for fifteen minutes at a stretch. Who knows what he’s been through? It’s not surprising he’s got a few issues.’
‘I don’t understand why people mistreat dogs like that,’ she says, taking a swallow of tea. Then after a pause – ‘But I did think they might get on. I thought they could be friends. Amelia seems very wary of Stanley. Do you think he’d hurt her?’
‘It’s best to be on the safe side,’ I say. ‘He’s had a long drive in the car, he’s on another dog’s patch. There’s a chance he might get a bit scratchy.’
‘Well I don’t understand it,’ says mum. ‘Amelia is so good with other dogs.’
‘It’s like I say – it’s not her, it’s him.’
‘I mean – she does bark a lot, but she hasn’t got a mean bone in her body. They can see she doesn’t mean any harm.’
‘Best be safe, though.’
‘How old is she?’
‘He. Stanley’s a he.’
‘Sorry. All dogs are bitches to me. How old is he?’
‘Nine!’ she says. ‘Ah.’ Then after staring out across the garden awhile, says: ‘Shame, though. I did hope they might get along.’