Saturday, July 28, 2012

Introducing Andrew

Americans don't really have a class system. They talk about it, and they throw a few labels around - like "middle class" - but you know the second they finish speaking that they don't know the first thing about a class system. America has rich people, and they have poor people, but they don't do "class" well at all.

The British, on the other hand, are masters at the class system. Not only do they do it well, not only has it survived egalitarian policy making and educational advancements, but it has been in existence forever. I should, perhaps, be more specific and state that it is the English in particular who have both crafted and mastered the class system, for fear of offending my Scot, Irish and Welsh friends, where the issues I'll highlight are less well developed...except around Balmoral when Queenie is in town. So whereas the American class system, for what it's worth, is a brash economic model, the English class system drips with indicators at many levels, from accent, to school, to neighborhood, to the friends you keep and the places you go. The "old school tie" has greater currency value than a greenback.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the English working class, when they weren't dying in their hundreds and thousands in coal mines and factories, used to make ends meet by poaching on the estates of the upper class. Rabbits, pheasant, fish, deer - whatever could be caught by snare or stealth was caught and consumed. It was risk in combat with gamekeepers that didn't always turn in their favor. Potential starvation made the risk acceptable. There were two main types of dog that would accompany a poacher - either a terrier, excellent for going down holes and killing animals, or a lurcher. A lurcher was a sight hound that, once unleashed, would run down a target before killing it. They were fast over short bursts.

It was my wife who first posed the question. I remember it well. It was a warm, late summer afternoon - I had just returned from work and she had been...well, we'll come to that shortly. We already had a dog. Jet was, well, black. Our son Thomas had selected her from a litter at the animal rescue and I took some persuading even on this request. But Jet arrived and the matter was settled. Our family was complete. We had a beautiful old house in the moorland hills of northern England, 2 children and a dog. What more could we want?

My wife clearly had other ideas. On the day in question she carefully wrote "gullible mug" on her forehead and went to the animal rescue center, apparently speculatively. I have my doubts and there was a strong whiff of premeditation. When all the facts eventually came out much later she admitted to seeing a half-page ad in the local paper and when she saw the photo and read the story she just had to "go and see".

Andrew was an English Lurcher. The moment I saw his photo I knew he'd be trouble. He constantly looked as though he was about to commit a crime...or had just committed a crime...and he was definitely guilty. In truth, his story was miserable, and it was this that softened my uncompromising refusal. As a pup he had been mistreated. He was then abandoned and was hit by a car on the highway and left for dead. He was found and taken to a veterinary surgery where he underwent a number of serious operations the outcome of which saw him with screws, metal pieces and splints in his forelegs. Speaking purely personally, I'm not entirely sure his brain wasn't damaged as well, although my wife moves quickly to silence me on that point.

I can't remember how long I held out. The barrage was relentless. Every night like clockwork a constant stream of ridiculous suggestions would usher across the room. "Let's just try him for a weekend", "Some nasty person might take him and abuse him again", "He's be great company for Jet and Jet is lonely". I looked at Jet sleeping comfortably by the fire. She didn't look too troubled to me. And then, in what must have been only a momentary lapse, I let my guard down and said something vaguely possibilistic. Two days later Andrew arrived "on trial". Now, "on trial" meant something very different to me that it did to my wife and kids. For me it was clear. We keep him for a few days, send him back...and then talk about it. But what it really meant was...he's here for good unless he rips down the house brick by brick, eats three neighborhood children and savages the postman (although on this last point I could see some merit).

The rest, they say, is history and over the next few months I'll explain what happened with Andrew, what he got up to, and how he became such an amazing dog. He was also hilarious despite the fact that he only used his brain cells in pairs...which meant that all four of them were soon completely worn out.

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