I find I have skipped another episode.
People are asking me, “Just tell us what it’s like. We’ve all heard of OCD. But what does it mean?”
A few weeks after Rosie was born we went to Ireland. We all love the land of Shaun’s ancestry; and because I earn our family holidays – by writing travel articles about them – I get to decide what would make good copy. And I usually decide that what my readers would most enjoy reading about is my family and horses. Falling off them. Getting lost on them. Having to get up at dawn to tack them. Even, if necessary, getting saddle-sores on them or being chased by an elephant on them, driving a caravan into a ditch with them or having a complete stand-off with them as to which is the correct route to take. (On this occasion, aiming at the extremely small target of a polo ball from the back of them.)
I don’t mind much... as long as I get to ride them.
Naturally, Ireland and horses go together like the proverbial cart and.
But Bink could no longer do horses.
In her horror of hair and dirt and slobber and general animalness she seems to have forgotten this, but as a child she gave every appearance of liking dogs and cats... and, yes, horses. In a funny kind of way she still does. She is much more particular about eschewing meat that hasn’t been humanely reared even than Serena is. She is concerned about Horatio, our Great Dane, having a bed too small for him. She often demonstrates deep sympathy towards animals.
But because she can hardly bear to be in the same house as an animal that isn’t locked firmly behind glass – she doesn’t object to Ben’s snakes… not that it would make the slightest difference if she did: I’m sure I must have done – she has come to believe she doesn’t like them. (As I write this I find myself curious as to why the same thing hasn’t happened to her love of small children: their eating and evacuating habits are surely every bit as disgusting and unsympathetic towards OCD as animals’ are...)
That’s fine. Plenty of people in the modern world seem to function without much contact with animals. If not, perhaps, quite so many people in our household. Which, at the last count, had several dozen animals using our address as theirs when they need to claim anything from the DWP.
So Bink was not going to ride with us. Sad though this was, it was also quite fortunate as it meant there was someone to look after the six-week-old that was now Rosie.
As I was setting the holiday up it suddenly occurred to me that Serena’s Great Dane (Hamlet, predecessor to Horatio) was not the kind of dog you could snick into your designer handbag and hope no one notices your smuggling into your hotel room. We had the extreme good fortune to be booked into the smartest hotel in Ireland, so I rang Reception for advice.
“That’s grand,” I was told. “You can bring him wit’ ya.”
Obviously this was a mistake – you don’t need to see a Great Dane to realise he’s not welcome anywhere – so I waited a few weeks and rang again.
And, bizarrely, received the same answer. I thought about this for a while and then rang back for the manager. When even the owner of the hotel said we were welcome to have a Great Dane sleeping in our bedroom I decided to live dangerously.
Shaun has told me stories of tenements in Dublin inhabited by horses. Perhaps that’s why no one turned a hair at a dog the size of a pony being shown into our extremely luxurious 5* bedroom. Well, I say no one... the very English Colonel Blimp in the room next door kicked up a terrific fuss. And checked out next morning.
I asked whether there might be a few scraps left over in the kitchen suitable for a dog’s dinner. Five minutes later, a lassie in a neat black dress and white pinny knocked at our bedroom door. She was bearing the sort of vast shining platter and dome which shimmies into the frame in a Marx Bros movie before the waiter trips over the rug and hurls it across the room like an All Black attempting a try. (Is that how you attempt a try? And why isn’t that a tautology..?)
Beneath said dome was the biggest shin bone a cow ever sported, with enough meat left on it to feed the entire Atkins tribe. What we appreciated even more (though the dog barely seemed to notice) was the sprig of fresh green parsley decorating its noddle.
That’s the kind of hotel it was.
Attention to detail. Beds the size of croquet lawns. None of this kettle-in-the-room-and-capsules-of-longlife-milk nonsense in place of a service bell. This was the Downton Abbey of the hotel world.
You’d assume, then, that the bathrooms would be clean enough to serve ices on their tiles. And so they were.
But not clean enough for Bink.
My abiding memory of that holiday is of Bink darting among the bushes, like Beatrice in Much Ado running along the ground as a lapwing to overhear the gossip about Benedict. The main difference being that, in most productions I’ve seen, the director hasn’t considered it necessary for Beatrice to bare her bottom.
There were enough gardeners in that hotel’s gardens to comb every blade of grass, polish every leaf and buff every rosebud. And by the end of Bink’s ablutions, at least one gardener’s apprentice so traumatised by the sight of Bink’s white exterior flashing among the undergrowth that he reconsidered his calling and decided to take up brain surgery.