Dolores came to us at the start of winter, shivering in a summer dress and thin coat. My mother took her straight out and equipped her with suitable clothes. None of us spoke Spanish, but it’s surprising how far a basic dictionary and sign language goes. My mother ended up speaking fairly fluent but completely ungrammatical (so she said, I don’t remember) Spanish. When Dolores arrived and found there were several dogs in the house, she was shocked. “In Spain, we throw knives at dogs!” she said.
A few weeks later, my mother found her crouched on the kitchen floor holding a bowl, at which Simon was lapping daintily. “Salma doesn’t like cold milk from the floor,” she explained. She’d taken the top of the milk (the creamy Jersey milk at that), warmed it in a pan and was holding it for him to drink at a comfortable height. That was the power that Simon held.
Of course, there was no question that we would give the dogs tinned food. It was cooked for them freshly, meat and vegetables, then mixed with biscuit. Actually, I used to do that sometimes for my dogs too. They liked it far better.
Simon listened to every conversation and understood a lot of what he heard. He noticed, too. So if my mother went upstairs to get changed, he’d deduce that she was going out and position himself at the door ready to shoot out the moment it was opened a chink so that he’d get a ride in the car (as I said the other day, he’d chase the car for a ride and there was nothing to be done about that, so either he wasn’t let out or he was taken along). There were various key words that got an instant reaction – walk, milk, car, out and so on. Because he out-thought us so often, we started saying those words in French. So he learned them in French. Then in Dutch and Spanish. Then we started to spell them out. He learnt that too.
He was a remarkably dignified dog and acutely aware of himself – honestly loves, I’m not kidding, nor exaggerating. I have never known this in another dog, not to anything like the same extent. The worst insult you could give was “you smell.” He’d stalk straight out of the room and no amount of pleading would make him forgive you, not for hours. It could be true of course, he was all dog and loved to roll in something smelling dreadful. The garden led down to the river and sometimes the dogs would find a dead fish, the stinkier the better. This would lead to a bath, if you could catch him. He didn’t enjoy the bath but he did love the grooming and preening that followed it. He became more sensitive about the word as time went by and you couldn’t innocently use the word ‘smell’ in conversation without him getting huffy. “Sorry Simon, not you, you’re lovely”.
Once, he got shut in the downstairs loo. Of course, what I said earlier about them not drinking water in the house was wrong. I should have said that they (I’m talking male dogs here of course, the girls never did such a thing) drank plenty of water in the house, as long as it was out of the lavatory. Our toilet seats didn’t have lids. They were the original wooden ones from when the house was built in 1913. And I’m sure you realise by now that there was little chance of us remembering to shut the toilet door. Anyway, it was a joke. Simon was engrossed in lapping away and my mother quietly shut the door, meaning to go back in a minute and let him out. But something happened to distract her and she forgot and it wasn’t for quite some time that she noticed he wasn’t around and ran to let him out. He stalked into the cloakroom, a look of thunder on his face and wouldn’t speak to her for hours.