Her sister Cleopatra was much the same size but she had quite a different physique. She had long, black, silky hair and a soft and gentle body, she wasn’t muscular at all. She loved to sit on your lap. Well, not your lap, my lap or anyone’s lap.
Seven dogs does sound a lot and there certainly were people who thought there were too many, when they all ran out barking to check out a caller. But they were actually quite an orderly bunch, kept well under the control of Simon, who was a strong but completely benevolent pack leader. They were never in the least aggressive, any of them, apart from that one incident when Muldoon turned briefly on Kipper, there was no fighting and they were very friendly to people and welcomed visitors.
Muldoon had one foible, however, he was intrigued by people wearing shorts. Shorts were worn quite, erm, short at that time, and he couldn’t resist, but had to give a little nip. Not to hurt, he didn’t break the skin or even leave a mark – it seemed to be the equivalent of pinching the bottom and he didn’t mind whether it was a man or a woman.
This time was probably the last when I was quite carefree. Our family circumstances had changed somewhat, financially in particular, because of the very heavy taxation on investment income in the mid and late 1960s. And prices had started to rise so, whilst our gross income was much the same, we had much less after tax and it didn’t go so far. It didn’t matter to me, I have never been too interested in possessions or clothes, but it was difficult for my mother to accept.
I didn’t join in the last ever family holiday, sadly. It was my sister’s 21st birthday and, asked what she’d like as a present, she asked for a holiday in Scotland. This was in the April just before I took my O Levels, when I was 15. I said that I couldn’t go, I had too much work to do. I’d stay at home and look after the dogs.
It was arranged that a neighbour would come in each night and sleep in the house with me, not that I would have minded being alone, and otherwise I looked after things. My mother stocked the fridge, but after they left it occurred to them that I’d been left no money at all. And so I received the only letter I ever had from my father. I can quote it in full, although I haven’t seen it for years (I have it somewhere, not sure where). Dear Zoë, it said, Herewith cheque for £5 which you can ask Jean Barnitt to cash for you. And he’d signed it with his full name including his middle initial! I didn’t need money however, so I never did bother to ask Jean Barnitt (who was another neighbour, not the one staying with me) to cash it.
Everything went fine, I enjoyed myself. I prepared the dogs’ food, which was freshly cooked every couple of days, I cooked robust meals for myself, including plenty of vegetables and I walked the dogs. I did spend much of the days revising, it was good to have no one there to distract me. I don’t remember being invited out to friends’ houses or having anyone round, in fact I’m quite sure I wasn’t/didn’t, which seems a bit odd as I had several good friends who lived nearby. Maybe they were away too, or maybe they were revising – Valerie would also have been taking O levels and her brother Johnny and friends John and Jim were a couple of years older, taking A levels. We didn’t go to the same schools, Johnny and Valerie went to neighbouring schools in or near Edinburgh, John went to Oundle and Jim to Cheltenham College. Their fathers worked for Shell and they’d spent much of the time working abroad, usually in the Middle East, so the offspring all went to boarding school. Wink and I didn’t because our mother wanted hers to be the strongest influence on our lives. Unfortunately, it involved us going to a rubbish school, where I was happy enough but Wink certainly wasn’t.