One of the most important members of our small family is Mick, our 12-year-old British bulldog. Mr G and I chose him at eight weeks old as a companion for our female bulldog, Bianca (who is no longer with us unfortunately) and from the outset he was a character. Named after Mick Jagger, I chose him out of what seemed like hundreds of puppies because he was tiny, noisy and incredibly grumpy. Nowadays, he is still noisy and occasionally grumpy, but he is not tiny.
Shortly after we adopted him, Mr G was transferred to London from South Africa and the dogs ended up enduring six months of quarantine as we relocated. He went into the kennels a puppy, but came out a hulking beast of a dog, with boundless energy (going completely against the grain for a bulldog) and no idea of his own strength. A couple of sessions with a dog behaviourist and with wallets a few pounds lighter, Mick was a reformed character with a laid-back, chilled approach to everything.
And it has been something of an adventure ever since. He is the kind of dog that scares the hell out of you at first sight, but once he has snorted at you and sniffed your legs (he can’t reach most crotches), he is a softy. Unless you are a squirrel, in which case watch your back as one day he will get up enough speed to catch you (in his dreams anyway).
Mick has a number of weaknesses, chocolate being one of them. He relishes the approach of Christmas, because that means presents under the tree, which may or may not contain chocolate. Many times we have returned home from a bout of shopping to find the presents unwrapped – none too gently – as he hunts for whatever has caught his nose. He once ate an entire box of Jaffa Cakes (including the cardboard and plastic inner), then ran around the house like a demon for an hour. On another occasion, I had placed a bag full of goodies, such as Walnut Whips and Minstrels, on the study desk, supposedly out of his reach, only to find him perched on my keyboard, having eaten the lot and with a stomach too full to climb down afterwards. It took him days to get over that tummy ache; he would sit and groan for effect, but since he was in disgrace, he got no sympathy from us. And the “k” on my keyboard has never worked properly since. Yes, I know that chocolate is poisonous for dogs, but try telling him that.
His appetite will be his downfall one day. If he thinks he has not had enough dinner, he will either bark incessantly at us until we give him some more or, if we have not closed the cupboard door properly, he will go and help himself. He also enjoys a good hand cream and has figured out how to unzip a handbag if he thinks there is one hiding inside. We have had many disgruntled babysitters, who have come downstairs after putting the girls to bed to find their handbag open, the contents strewn all over the couch and Mick nibbling on their tube of Nivea. He has lovely, soft paws though.
At the ripe old age of 12, he is still as fit as a fiddle, albeit half blind, deaf (although this could be selective) and not as agile as he once was. No matter what he gets up to – once he ate through the cat flap on our back door and got his head stuck in the hole – our family would be incomplete without him.
Of course, he does have some enemies. Stereotypically, he hates the postman, who returns his sentiments tenfold. And there are some members of our extended family that are not his biggest fans. A few Christmases ago, we had family to stay. One morning, one of our elderly male guests came downstairs in a pair of very loose boxer shorts and a gown, then sat on the couch in front of Mick and I with legs astride and everything on show. I averted my eyes and before I could think of a tactful way of suggesting he rearrange himself, Mick caught a glimpse and shot across the room at full throttle, teeth bared, head-first into his crotch, apparently thinking of meat and two veg. After dragging Mick away with some difficulty, I snorted out my apologies, but then had to remove myself completely before hysterics took over. The boxers never appeared again, thankfully, and Mick got an extra Bonio that day.
Socially unacceptable, often embarrassing and frequently amusing, he is my constant companion. Now if only I could do something about his snoring and farting.