My wall museum

I also call it my calendar museum. You see, among the presents I (am told to) wish for myself at around Christmas, the first and the foremost is always an art calendar – for the following year. You know, one of the larger ones, with a picture for each calendar month. And then it’s always the Impressionists – and then again a mixed bag. I’ve had a Monet calendar only once, I think, and it was like having just one friend to watch and to talk to, for the whole year.

I hang the calendar on the wall at the foot end of my bed. It’s a Danish bed and if I put the slatted frame up a bit at the head end, I can sleep in reclining like the medieval knights who were scared that the Devil might carry them off while they were asleep, mistaking them for dead. The Devil won’t mistake me for dead since I snore, nevertheless. So while I recline in that half lying, half sitting position waiting for sleep the sweet brother of Death to come to me – that’s when I watch the picture of the month. It’s a nice feeling to know that I’ve got a whole month to get to know that picture, intimately, in every detail and every blemish, the strong points as well as the weak points.

And I can’t skip a picture if I don’t like it, since I can’t skip a month. So I have to live for a month with a picture I don’t like – until it begins to grow on me. I’ve hated some pictures so much that I’ll never forget them in my life. And then there are pictures that I have liked but forgotten. Is there a lesson in there for us?

Looking at the picture during the day is a different experience all over again, especially if I don’t have the light on, as in summer. The window is on the other side, so I can watch the sky and the clouds getting darker or lighting up as I try to get an afternoon snooze. I don’t have to twist my neck to watch the sky and the clouds through the window – I watch the sky and the clouds in the picture, two parasolled ladies taking a walk in the fields near Argenteuil, say. The sky and the clouds in the picture begin to look dark and menacing as the sky clouds over in Plittersdorf, where we live. Did the Impressionists paint that way or is it a vicarious effect of light and shade? Who shall know?

I always recommend the Impressionists to our younger colleagues freshly arrived from Asia as the best ‘access’ to European painting. I show them a small, insignificant canvas of young birch trees in leaf (it’s by Monet, I think, but sometimes I think wrong) hanging in one of the museums on Berlin’s Museum Island. My younger colleagues are suitably impressed; they can even see the fresh green leaves sprouting on the branches, they say. Then I make them go up to the canvas until they’re practically rubbing noses with it – and the museum guard comes looking by. My younger colleagues see just bits of colour brushed in casually, somehow, anyhow, at times with the wrong end of the brush. And with what economy! Not of colour but of form and shape. ‘How does he do it?’ They’re talking about Monet and not about me. ‘He paints it directly on your brain’ – I tell my younger colleagues. Monet does half the painting and your brain does the rest.

The only true thing, really true, about an Impressionist painting is the light – I tell my younger colleagues. And light and dark is what even the human foetus can distinguish in the mother’s womb. That’s how they won, that’s how a motley crowd of Frenchmen could take on the Florentine Renaissance and the flying Dutchmen of the 18th c.

‘Don’t go directly to classical European painting, it’s too iconic and frightfully white Caucasian and Christian’ – I tell my younger colleagues. ‘Don’t go anywhere near Braque, Brancusi, Mondrian and the rest of modern art – not until your nerves are stronger. Get to know Europe’s skies and clouds and colours – painted with the simplicity of a house painter applying paint to a peeling door.’

December 2015 broke all records by being the second warmest December, ever. Every flowering tree in Bonn and surroundings thought it was spring and came out in bloom. But I had Camille Pissaro’s Winter Landscape in Louveciennes to stare at (painted 1872, oil on canvas, original in Folkwang museum, Essen, Germany). It’s just a snow-covered slope with some scattered trees and a farmhouse to the left. Until you realise that what is so fascinating about the painting are the shadows of the trees on the deep snow – and even in the hollows – how light changes colour, white into near blue, not quite grey, too bright for that, I suppose.

December 2014 I had spent staring at Claude Monet’s The Magpie (painted 1869, oil on canvas, original in Musée d’Orsay, Paris). The farmhouse in the picture is a long drawn out affair in the background, drowning in light, in the wintry sunshine. In the foreground there is a kind of wickerwork fence carrying a load of snow, throwing a wonderful silhouette of itself in steely grey-blue on the slightly soiled snow. There’s a very rackety and rickety wooden door to the left side of the fence on which a lonely magpie is sitting. Trees in the background all carry wild sprigs of fresh snow, fallen in the night, I presume.

My way of getting to know European painting. Know any better?


English Made Me (2)

The story will have to be told, I suppose.

I don’t remember learning the alphabet, that must have happened somehow, though I seem to remember the succulent red-and-gold apple illustrating ‘A’ and looking like something Eve had just plucked for Adam – still think of it as Adam’s apple, I do. Otherwise the book was a Longman’s primer, which meant that it had been imported from London, no wonder Eve had been at it.

Nor do I remember anything of the B-A-T bat, C-A-T cat stage, though which Indian will not remember the famous Kishore Kumar song to the effect that if c-a-t cat means billi and r-a-t rat means chuha, what’s the harm in my heart being in your clutches (closest translation)? No wonder we Indians never learnt English.

And then I was put in the kindergarten section of the South Point school in South Calcutta – as if it could be North Point! The school was situated in Mandeville Gardens off Swinhoe Street. A green gate and a high wall, behind which there was a largish bungalow complete with a tiled roof. The patch of ground in front must have been the lawn but had been trodden bare by the time I was coralled, don’t remember having seen a single blade of grass. We called our English teacher ‘Miss’ instead of ‘Didimoni’ (literally, ‘jewel of an elder sister’) since it was an English medium school. She was the first woman I ever fell in love with. Remember, we’re talking about the mid-’fifties – not her age, silly. She must have been around thirty and dressed and did her hair exactly like one of those educated ‘Brahmo’ ladies in Tagore’s tales – she might even have been one, for all I know.

She used to sit at the piano in her pale blue sari made of some billowy stuff called georgette, as I seem to have gathered even at that tender age, though not why georgette, what georgette, did it have something to do with King George? No, it was invented by an early 20th century French dressmaker by the name of Georgette de la Plante – which it has taken me another century to find out. In any case, Miss used to sing us nursery songs, English nursery songs, accompanying herself on the piano. One black high-heeled shoe worked the pedal while her eyes steamed over behind her fashionable, gold-rimmed spectacles. I believe she used to use (now, what kind of English is that, Dakoo?) lipstick, I’d seen stains of it on her dazzlingly white, slightly horsy teeth.

I was Miss’s favourite pupil – women always reciprocate true love. And of course I learnt my lessons better and faster than the others. So when our class had to put up a show for the annual prize distribution ceremony, she invented an act just for the two of us. On stage, she’d hold up various cards each bearing a verb like ‘run’, ‘sit’ or ‘jump’, and I’d enact the verb, so to say. There were a couple of microphones hanging low for some group-song to follow and I ‘ran’ into one of them with such force that it sounded like a clap of thunder over the loudspeakers. I was seeing stars (though not stripes, being British to the core) and there was a buzzing in my ear for the rest of those excruciating five minutes. But I did not let ‘her’ (that’s why Rider Haggard called his novel ‘She’) down. I ‘sat’, ‘jumped’ and ‘threw’ with alacrity all for her sake, only for her sake.

And then they wanted to give me a double promotion (ahem) directly from cagey one to class one, which my father thought was outrageous. So I was taken out of South Point and put in a much larger cattle pen called St. Lawrence High School – still in South Calcutta, crossing Ballygunge Circular Road/Richie Road – wouldn’t think we Bengalis ever had anything to do with Calcutta if you looked at the street names, in those days.

In any case, it was the end of my very first love affair and the beginning of a second, unbeknownst – this time with the English language. Take our English story-book, class one (designating the first year in the primary section, silly, not ‘class’ in terms of quality as in the EU agricultural norms). It – the book – was a fairy-tale. Again, freshly imported from England, beautiful white pages, beautifully printed and beautifully illustrated. There were gnomes and fairies in it, cottages and flowers and trees. The fairy-tale world with every imperfection removed: not just from the pictures – those shitless dogs and dungless cattle – but also from the paper, from the print, from the binding. I was most impressed by the print: large letters that did not smudge at all, you could admire even the commas and the full stops. And if there’s one smell that women should aspire to, it’s the smell of a new book – not an Indian book, printed in Kolkata or Kanpur or Delhi, where you can smell the gum in the binding, especially if it’s damp. And in those days, the gum would often have a smell like food that is rotting since it was not gum at all but just cooked rice, crushed and smeared, same stuff that we repaired our kites with. But the ink at least smelt good. And the paper, even Indian paper. Paper always has that crispy feeling when it’s new, like the starched sari of an Indian woman – georgette be blown.

And you thought we were talking about English?

(To be continued)

Mika’s Blog (2): Love

We have a slight difference of opinion on that point. Mika is – theoretically – in love with every hot bitch anywhere in the world, or at least in Plittersdorf. (I used to be just as bad when I was young, I seem to remember, but that’s neither here nor there). Otherwise Mika is as non-discriminatory as a draft constitution when it comes to – er, hot bitches viz. age no bar, colour no bar and race no bar, even looks no bar, the only bar being possibly the species. The lady in question should at least be canine, I’d always thought, until I saw Mika trying to cajole – not coerce – one of Kasia’s elder sister’s cats into playing doctor games with him – and getting a bloody nose in the process.

Talking of coercion, there’s no coercion in love in the canine world. Dogs are gentlemen, as a rule, and will never bite a female. I’ve seen tiny female dogs yap away huge hulks of boxers WP_20160220_13_08_22_Proand huskies. Especially when she’s ‘hot’, it’s the female who does the choosing. I’ve heard of a male dog sodomising another male dog just to show who’s king – it was a Leonberger that did it to a German Shepherd. And I’ve seen three male dogs – including Mika – pile on to the back seat of a tiny Fiat in hot pursuit of a lady’s – hot – West Highland terrier. Took self and two other passers-by to untangle the heap, I remember.

A question that I often ask Mika is: Do you have no shame? What is shame? Mika says. There is no shame in love and hunger – Mika says. There is no shame in bites, scratches, yelps and ultimately running away with your tail between your legs. There is no shame in licking your wounds – and other things – in public or in private. And to live for another day and another bitch (to steal Scarlett O’Hara’s punchline).

You see, love and survival are absolutely interrelated issues in the canine view of existence. You need a pack to survive. The pack has to love you – especially if you’re not the alpha dog, who rules by fear. You might be the lowest in the pecking order – originally discovered among chicken – but you still need to be loved, because they’ll bite you out of the pack otherwise, which is the same as death. Ergo, the opposite of love is death. Death is the difference between a little love and no love. Ultimately one dies of lovelessness.

That is why me and Kasia – short for Katarzyna – we form Mika’s pack. As such Mika is ecstatic every time one of us returns, even if it’s just from the cellar or from taking out the trash. In the canine view of life, danger begins right from the stairwell and we – or one of us – might be eaten up by rabbits or squirrels or moles or any or all of those creatures of the dark the moment we set foot outside the door of the flat. Mika never believes when we tell him that we’re just going to do the groceries and will be back in half-an-hour. He assumes the worst. That way he’s just happy to see us – alive. What a simple way of being happy.

Conversely, if we ever happen to leave him with the dog sitter for more than three days, say, he waits for the first 24 hours, mourns for the next 24 and then assumes that we are dead and that he needs a new pack – what luck, he has got a new pack or what’s a dog sitter for! He just transfers his love from the dead to the one who is alive and well and giving him his food and collecting his droppings and wiping his ass if necessary – as simple as adopting a child from the Third World, only the other way round.

Joke is, Mika will be mourning for the dog sitter for the first two days after his return, making us despair – has Mika stopped loving us? No, he has to begin trusting us all over again, trusting that we won’t get lost and go missing and put him through the whole ordeal of re-arranging his loyalties – the other name of love – all for the sake of survival.

It is of course Kasia – short for Katarzyna, which again is naturally only a nom de guerre (French), Künstlername (German) or stage name (English) – who is Mika’s real love. Kasia was supposed to be my real love too, or that’s what I’d told her at the time of our marriage. And then Laura came along, around a year later, weighing just three kilos and two hundred grammes and I had to tell Kasia that I’d married her under false pretences, the real love of my life was Laura. And then when Laura was around eight or nine, Gypsy came along – that’s Mika’s predecessor and a Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen, Mika being a Grand or a larger version of the same…

Ever seen a Basset Griffon? The longest thing about Mika are his ears. He’s a large dog on short legs. When he trots his front part, middle part and the rear sway from side to side like an Indian goods train on wobbly rails. His paws look as if they’d been designed for baroque furniture. He’s got mournful eyes, a mouth full of dangerous teeth and bad smell and a tail like an ensign. He chases everything from flies in the living room to public buses on the road. And he’s got a voice as deep as Nat King Cole’s – with a touch of Sinatra.

As I said, Kasia is Mika’s true love. I love him desperately but that’s of no consequence. Nothing is of any consequence, it seems. I had this strange dream about Mika going to heaven – heaven looking exactly like our small and dingy flat in Plittersdorf, complete with the nondescript surroundings of an erstwhile fishing village – well, Mika had gone to heaven and who do you think comes along to greet him and says: ‘Hullo, Mika, welcome to Heaven. I’m God.’

‘Is that so?’ Mika replies, ‘Nice to meet you. Have you seen Kasia anywhere?’

That, I realise, is love. Neither divine, nor human, just canine.

‘Good English, bad German’

 No, we’re not talking of the war comics and the war films of yore, we are talking about what I call the Subcontinental Syndrome – one could call it the Colonial Syndrome as well. It means the ability to spend half-a-lifetime or more in a non-English-speaking foreign country without learning, really learning, earnestly learning the language of that country – but relying on our baboo-to-brown-sahib Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi English to see us through and salvage our honour.

Take Germany. Like as not you will meet the one or the other of these long-haired, dreamy-eyed, willowy young men just arrived from Mumbai or Delhi to join his German lady love who – the young man – will evince Bertie Wooster’s mentality in all its parochialism and insularity: why are the Germans such asses, Jeeves, why can’t they speak English? The original Bertie was musing about Frenchmen, of course.

My Bertie simply couldn’t accept the fact that the Germans still insisted on speaking German in the Twenty-First Century – despite Windows & Word & Google & Facebook & YouTube & Twitter. Didn’t they lose the war? Yes, but they did not lose their language. And my Bertie will have to learn it if he intends to find (i) meaningful occupation and (ii) social acceptance in this German-speaking country.

And then my Bertie will complain about how pop songs sound so funny in German. ‘To your ears,’ I tell Bertie, to stop his giggling. ‘Look,’ I tell him, ‘would you like the Germans to laugh when they see our Ambassadors & Marutis simply because they’ve got their Audis & BMWs & Volkswagen & Mercedes?’ ‘Do they?’ Bertie was on the warpath at once. ‘No, they sell you their Audis etc., right down to Porsches,’ I told the young man – I think Audi had just held a road show with camels and elephants all the way from Rajasthan to New Delhi at around that time but I might be mistaken. You’ll have to ask Bertie.

And so it will go on. I will have to explain to this perfectly sane and well-educated young man from India that even Angshu Jain was addressing the shareholders of the Deutsche Bank in German towards the end. The Germans like English as we Indians like our chutneys and our pickles – to spice things up and to show that they are on the up and up, that they are knowledgeable, that they are cosmopolitan, that they’ve been holidaying in English-speaking countries ever since they were this high ironing out all misunderstandings with their Deutschmarks and their Euros.

Talk English to them, by all means – especially to your girlfriend, it’s how she fell in love with you, remember? – but don’t tax their patience – I tell Bertie. There will be a point beyond which they will stop listening and start smiling that hard, polite German smile of theirs which says, ‘I’ve got more patience than this fool’. Which will make you come out with your latest acquirement in German, how you can say Guten Tag and Auf Wiesbaden, that’s Good Day and See You, isn’t it? Then why are they all laughing? ‘It’s Auf Wiedersehen, Schatz’ – Treasure or Darling – his German girlfriend will tell Bertie, ‘Wiesbaden is the town we went to, remember?’

Bertie will have to remember for the next thirty years of his life – as I had to – that they speak German in Germany as they speak Chinese in China, Japanese in Japan, Polish in Poland and Finnish in – forget it. Bertie will not listen to a battle-scarred language veteran like me but join the language-impaired, language-disabled, language-challenged of the world and become a permanent member of our Good English, Bad German club.

Met Bertie’s five-year-old son the other day – perfect German, as was only to be expected, but what about his father tongue, which is supposed to be Hindi? The way the little angel spoke the rashtrabhasha, his own nani, that’s the grandmother, wouldn’t have recognised it, neither on the mother’s side nor on the father’s side.

Heads you win, tails I lose – as I was telling Bertie…

Guess Who Came to Dinner

I must have seen the film in ’68, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier, all three immortals united in a single Hollywood comedy, the tremor could be felt as far away as Kolkata – Calcutta in those days. ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is about interracial marriage, which was still illegal in 17 of the 50 states of the US as of 12 June 1967: that’s when the Supreme Court struck down the anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia, I’m not joking, the case was Loving versus Virginia, Wikipedia will tell you. Loving won, I presume.

Otherwise we Bengalis have nothing to learn from the Southern states. There’s the story of the Bengali girl returning home with a black husband from the US, who had conveniently forgotten to tell her family that her hubby was an American but black, a black American. The mother opened the door to welcome her American son-in-law, saw who was coming to dinner and fell over – dead. She’d had a heart attack. So don’t talk to us about who’s coming to dinner. But you can tell the feminist joke about the man who went to see God and came back to report: ‘To begin with, she is black.’ Must have run into our Goddess Kali.

Loving won in my case as well. I left the diplomatic service and we settled down in Germany, not without certain cultural conundrums. My wife was asking me all the time about the colour of the hair or the colour of the eyes of whichever lady I might have chanced to encounter on the street or wherever and I had to confess that I did not know, since I was not used to noticing such things. Everybody had black hair and brown eyes where I came from. The thing to notice had been the skin colour – dark to fair, ‘light dark’, ‘somewhat dim’ (the colour of the skin, not the person) and so on, the fifty shades of grey of Bengali racism. A Bengali bridegroom – or his family – always looked for a bride with a fair skin, even if the fellow was dark as sin, especially if the fellow was dark as sin. I had explained all this to my wife and my step-daughter even before they set foot in Bengal for the first time.

Imagine my chagrin when I heard the two of them laughing over our ‘colour bar’ – they did not seem to find a certain grandaunt of mine as fair (milk and lac-dye) as we (the rest of the family) did, or a certain uncle of mine as dark (the underside of a rice-pot) as we did. And then my wife let me in on their secret: apparently we Bengalis all seemed dark when seen through European eyes. More than that, these white Caucasians did not seem to care about skin colour, or about one’s class or station in life: my wife and my stepdaughter were finding a certain young maidservant of ours sweet to look at and oomphy and with a nice figure and all that – when she was dark as sin (don’t ask me why it’s a greater sin for a girl or a woman to be dark than for a boy or a man). They were even asking why I had not married somebody like her – just imagine, yours truly, a Gentoo and a gentleman, marrying a maidservant!

Which makes me feudal, apart from being a racist, I know. Serve me right that my own skin colour is nothing to write home about (why should I? Mother should know). I was made painfully aware of the fact in the black-and-white photographs an uncle of mine, the family photographer, was taking with his Rolleiflex camera. He was not getting the aperture right, my uncle was complaining. The photographs on which one could see me, my wife was overexposed, looking like a white female ghoul; the photos on which her features were discernible, I was underexposed, looking like my own silhouette.

Until they discovered colour. We’ve been all light since then, as the Chinese say – trust me to end with a racist joke!

English Made Me

What a confession!

The reference – for those who have not guessed already – is to Graham Greene’s ‘England Made Me’. As I tell young men to this day: go and fall in love with somebody else’s daughter if you must, but don’t you go falling in love with somebody else’s language. I did both. And then I landed in Germany, the kind of evolutionary challenge Darwin would have recognised: will my English survive or will it wither on the stony German soil? All because of my English, learning Doitch was turning out to be not just tough but uproariously funny:-

Herr Kampmann: Good Day, Herr Artmann!

Herr Artmann: Good Day, Herr Kampmann!

Herr Kampmann: How goes it You?

Herr Artmann: Thanks good. And You?

Herr Kampmann: Thanks, it goes. Where come You?

Herr Artmann: I come out of Munich.

Herr Kampmann: And whereto travel You?

Herr Artmann: I travel to Bremen.

Herr Kampmann: Live You in Bremen?

Herr Artmann: Yes, I live now in Bremen.

Herr Kampmann: You excuse, Herr Artmann, my Train! To seeing you again!

Herr Artmann: To seeing you again! And good Journey!

This was Grundstufe Eins, that’s Basic Level One, to be followed by Basic Level Two and then Mittelstufe Eins, that’s Middle School – what the hell, they must mean Middle Level One. Well, whatever it is – or was – we were now dealing with texts like:-

One Cardriver strikes with another Cardriver, who from left comes, and whom he coming saw, together (separable verb ‘togetherstrike’), because he Right of Way has – what presses he with that ex (separable verb ‘express’)? Somewhat only his Right of Way? What forces him, himself this Right to take, since he thereby himself and one other nearly the Life takes? What obstructs him, his Need above his Right to put, to whose Realisation this Right after all there had to be? How great must the Maltreatment of his Needs be, so that he the Means to their Realisation for that uses, their Realisation to prevent? Where are, except in Street-intercourse, these Needs so maltreated?

It wasn’t the fault of that very pragmatic and rational language called German that an ex-colonial expat from India was transliterating everything into English in his head and laughing himself silly in the process. He was not laughing himself silly, he was being silly – the Germans would have told him, had they not been so polite. Since then, they’ve been praising my (by now half-baked, though no longer broken) German and completely disregarding my English, overlooking it altogether. Why? Because I’m not a native speaker. What’s a native speaker? Does it mean a native – in those early days of missionising and colonising – who has just learnt how to speak, instead of communicating his thoughts and emotions in terms of grunts and squeaks? Later, it could have meant (I’m just guessing) a native who has learnt to speak English. Ultimately a native speaker is one who was born speaking English – or maybe just hearing English? ‘Hey, if that’s my son, how come he’s got (or has not got) blue eyes and blond hair?’ Though that should apply to all other languages as well (just change the colour of the eyes and the hair), except pidgin, patois and Indian English.

Well, let’s say a native speaker is something like champagne being champagne only if it comes from Champagne, everything else being sparkling wine. Similarly, my English is neither gorgonzola nor mozzarella, it’s just mouldy Indian English – and who has heard of English growing in India after the British left?

And there was I, feeling as if I’d been dropped behind enemy lines during WWII, or at least like Le Carré’s spy before he came in from the cold (war?). I was feeling as intensely British as in a war movie or a war comic of my Kolkata schooldays, while mildly concerned German friends were asking me if I was feeling unwell.

Tell us about Bengali – they’d be saying, to cheer me up or to distract me, even sitting up in their sofas and couches in their enthusiasm. Now, Bengali, that is your mother tongue, is it not? What kind of a language is that?

Why don’t you go and ask the British? I told them. After all, they had been in Bengal for more than two hundred years. Should be ruddy native speakers by now.

(To be continued)

Mika’s blog

Not that Mika has started blogging. Mika never blogs. He doesn’t write or speak. He barks from time to time. He gobbles things from the wayside which have been lying there for some time. And then he throws up if it disagrees with him. He eats grass in repentance. The ‘leaves of grass’ – Whitman would have been pleased – travel all the way through Mika’s tummy and come out at the other end. You can’t blog about such things. Wonder whether I can.

Mika is not his real name. His real name is Lucien l’honneur du pied and he’s got an ancestry considerably longer than mine. It’s a French nWP_20150828_20_13_18_Proame which I guess means ‘honour on foot’. Mika is a Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen. His mother, Emmy, used to live in the forests of Westerwald – with Mika’s breeder. Emmy was taken to her ‘husband’ in France, who did a quick one day stand with her, before snarling her away! No wonder nobody understands anything about love, real love, romantic love, in Mika’s family. In any case, Emmy came back to Westerwald with a broken heart and a full belly – the belly got fuller by the day, until Mika and his eleven brothers and sisters saw the light of day, on the same day, being twins, if you know what I mean.

Of course not twins, since there were twelve of them. Emmy had had duodecuplets, from duodecim, that’s the Latin for twelve. I’ll call it Emmy’s dozen – from a baker’s dozen to the Dirty Dozen – and twins, for fear that she might bite me if she heard me calling her darlings – what was the word? – duodecuplets.

When we went to the breeder to pick (yes, pick, which means choose, and not pick up, which you do eight weeks later, good for the ‘socialisation’, we were told, wish I had been raised that way) – let’s start all over again, when we went to the breeder to pick Mika, Mika and his eleven twins were scattered all over the grounds, only Emmy knowing where her pups were. And then Mika fell asleep in the middle of a run, so half a dozen of his twins fell asleep on top of him, in a heap, as if they’d all been shot. So the breeder put the whole lot in an enclosure, where they promptly piled up on top of each other and went back to sleep. K. was making funny squeaking noises of delight and endearment by then. She bent down to touch one of the pixies – only to find Emmy’s cold nose in the way. Emmy did not like her brood being touched or caressed or disturbed in any way. It broke my heart to see her sitting there, barklessly, when we were taking away her smallest – by way of size – in a shoebox eight weeks later. And only a fool believes that a mother’s love – even a canine mother’s – is divisible. Or that she cannot count. We’d stolen ‘honour on foot’ from Squaw Emmy in her wigwam. Stolen goods, maybe that’s why we decided to call him Mika. And I couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea of going through life calling ‘Lucien! Lucien!’ into the shrubbery, or even exploding into ‘Lucien! Come here, you son-of-a-pig!’

‘So what shall I blog about?’ I was asking Lucien, I mean Mika.

‘Hot bitches?’ Mika suggested.

We were out for our usual walk in the Rheinaue, that’s the bit of green on the Rhine which is Bonn’s saving. ‘How can I blog about hot bitches,’ I protested, ‘when I don’t even know which ones are hot?’ Mika has told me that to write ‘in heat’ is sexist and impolite.

‘Can’t you smell?’ Mika said. ‘In that case, just watch me.’ I watched him with his nose to the aft of an absolute beauty of a Bobtail, around three sizes larger than him. It took more time to remove Mika from Ms Bobtail’s stern than it has taken me to write this blog.

And then I had the pleasure of watching Mika bark away an absolutely harmless and sweet cocker spaniel who was trying to be friendly. ‘Why did you do that?’ I asked Mika.

‘Oh, she’s just a bitch. And not even hot,’ Mika said nonchalantly.

‘What d’you mean? I thought she was charming.’

‘Bollocks,’ Mika said, pausing briefly to lick the objects in question. ‘You thought the lady at the other end of the leash was a doggess, didn’t you? Ha, ha.’

And thereby hangs a tail.