When I was a child I asked Father Christmas for a dog every year. I also, throughout the year, asked my mum and dad for a dog too. My mum, who had grown up on a small farm in the West of Ireland but who had never bonded with her father’s sheepdogs, always said ‘no’. She pointed out that we lived on a council estate with a small garden, and it wasn’t fair to a dog – that they should have fields to roam in. My dad, who had spent his childhood in a small village in the midlands of Ireland in the 1930s truanting from school and taking various dogs with him to catch rabbits, wanted a dog too. Every Saturday afternoon he would go upstairs to have a nap, and when I would go to wake him up for tea he would tell me two ‘secrets’ 1) that we were going back to live in Ireland and 2) that we were going to have a a dog. I remember once coming down to tell my mum that ‘Daddy says we are going to live in Ireland and we are going to have a dog’. ‘Hmm, does he?’ said Mum, and that was the end of it.
To be fair to my mum there were various very important reasons – not least my severely disabled brother’s needs – which meant that going back to Ireland would have been difficult.
Still, I never gave up the dream, and although I knew that a dog would not be coming from Mum or Dad, I had great confidence in Father Christmas. So much so that when, one year when I was 6 or 7, I found a box with ‘My name is Scruffy’ on it, I was absolutely sure it would be a puppy. I took off the lid of the box and found – a pyjama case dog.
I had a moment of sick disappointment when I realised he wasn’t a real puppy but, like Lucy in ‘Lucy’s Secret Reindeer’, I knew it wasn’t his fault and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I knew he wasn’t the dog I had wanted, but he was mine, and I loved him. He was my constant companion throughout my childhood, and then became my children’s toy, although always ‘on loan’ from me.
Here he is:
Here he is under his own name in ‘Lucy’s Secret Reindeer’
So, let’s rush forward to my 40th year. I was married, with four children, and I had a lovely husband. I had spent my life, before getting married at the age of 30, in rented accommodation where I could not have a dog, and somehow after marriage, in the rush of having four children close together, the idea of getting a dog receded. We had a rabbit and a guineapig, but no dogs.
Suddenly it hit me. I was never going to get a dog. It seemed ridiculous, as I had so much else in my life, but when I heard my mother, now elderly, telling my husband that dogs and children didn’t mix, and him agreeing that he couldn’t see how we would manage one, I suddenly couldn’t bear it. I felt doomed. It sounds very over dramatic, but I suddenly felt very depressed at the thought that I would live and die without ever having had my own dog, but too embarrassed, in the light of world suffering etc, to tell anyone. It seemed so trivial and yet it felt so important.
But this has a happy ending.
I told my lovely friend Jane, and she told me to tell my lovely husband, who was surprised at the depth of my misery, but very understanding and said that of course we should get one if I felt so strongly about it. We tried to adopt from a rescue Centre, but were advised that as the children were still small we’d be better off getting a known dog, whose parents and temperament and history we could be sure of, and so Jane ended up buying a golden retriever puppy for me. We paid her back every month, but she told us not to pay the last instalment as that was the tail, and that was her present to me for my 40th birthday.
And he was and is gorgeous, and appears in ‘Dog Ears’. His name is Timmy. I love him to bits and my children are always saying how glad they are that they have grown up with him.
Then, a few years later, I met the writer Katie Fforde when she was teaching on an Arvon writing course I was a student on, and she told me about her Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and we joked about me getting one of her puppies if her spaniel ever had any.
And a few years later, puppies arrived.
Katie started putting up pictures of her puppies on her twitter feed and telling funny stories about them. And I kept showing them to my family and my husband said ‘Anne – would you like one for your birthday?’
And I felt very selfish but I knew that I really, really did. And, 7 years after we got Timmy, my lovely husband got me another puppy. I now had not one, but TWO dogs. Talk about dreams coming true.
His name is Ben. And maybe because he was born into a writer’s home, he seems to have had a transforming effect on my career. As soon as he arrived I started getting short stories published, won a prize for flash fiction, got my picture book accepted with Nosy Crow and then got my marvellous agent and all my other books to date published etc.
And yesterday I decided to look at the old companion of my childhood dreams, my dog who was not a dog, but did his best, and comforted me throughout my childhood, and I brought him downstairs and put him next to Ben.
Do you see any connection?