The better half has the ability to concentrate with an unusual intensity. Sometimes she will be thinking, or dabbing at her iPhone, so hard that she barely registers what is being said to her.
The dog and I used to have a game. We would range ourselves as if by accident into a line, with the dog at one end, the better half in the middle and me at the other. The line was not entirely straight as it was necessary for the dog and me to maintain eye contact. The better half would be facing me rather than the dog, for reasons that will soon be apparent.
At a prearranged signal I would ask her a question.
The dog would predict the answer, by means of an agreed code.
One paw meant complete silence.
Two paws indicated a grunt.
Three: “No, Al!”
Five (four paws plus raised tail; a not untricky manoeuvre): a complete considered sentence. One of the rules was that a main verb was to be taken as conclusive proof of a ‘five’ response.
The dog would necessarily be lying on his side, or he would have fallen over. Even so he had a natural preference for predictions ‘one’ and ‘two’.
We would agree the number of questions, and if the dog was right more than half the time he could expect to receive something special in his bowl later in the day.
We also tried it the other way round, with the dog asking the questions and me making the predictions, but it was not nearly as satisfactory, as the nature of the questions that the dog could put to the better half was necessarily limited. To be frank, responses ‘one’ and ‘two’ would in most cases be inevitable.
The dog always called it ‘the cricket game’, because it reminded him of the juxtaposition of bowler and wicket-keeper with the hapless batsman in between. Last year the dog joined ‘my Hornby and my Barlow long ago’, so the game can never again be played, but it still amuses me when I hear Michael Vaughan on the television talking about some England bowler ‘asking searching questions’ of some batsman. In my mind’s eye I see the great Matt Prior, tucked behind the batsman, not in the habitual crouch but on his side covertly displaying a coded combination of wicket-keeper’s pads and gloves. What he does for ‘five’, the cricketing equivalent of a full sentence (a reverse sweep perhaps) is something that I am content to leave to the more technical sections of Wisden.
I say that the game can never be played again. Certainly it can’t be played in its pure form as the dog is no longer with us, but I still play it in my head, and I am not entirely sure that it would not make for good, and cheap, television. I have put a proposal to the film company for which I work, part time, and I am awaiting their response. It would give the better half and me great pleasure to see a brief credit for the dog at the end of the closing titles. That would of course involve my telling her about the game, which I have never so far had occasion to do.
As I write this, another thought occurs to me. I take a small piece of paper and a pencil and write: ‘The Cricket Video Game’. I sign it, date it and put it somewhere safe. As I have recorded before, I am creative first and last.
The difficulty of successfully getting the better half’s attention means that many of her friends telephone her. If she has the iPhone at her ear she cannot be dabbing at it and the immediacy of a telephone conversation means that, unless the friend in question is very dull indeed, it will take precedence over even her most urgent musings.
So it was the other morning with Thumper.
Thumper had not been calling for some weeks. I was worried that with his Petomanic tour de force, I Will Always Love You with sax solo, he had torn something. You may remember that his name had later materialised on a small piece of paper, accompanying a stylised representation of a rabbit, at Great Secret Miss. Amy had fancifully suggested that he was imprisoned in it. She has an imagination that is sometimes regrettably coarse and she had had some fun picturing its being applied by accident to her nether parts and lost in the primitive plumbing that lies just behind and below her establishment like the dead people, who, if the tapers are anything to go by, lie immediately below the plumbing.
I think that Amy was winding me up. Anyway she was wrong, for here he was, on the phone to the better half, who was on the other side of the matrimonial bed drinking a delicious cup of tea that I had just made for her.
What! said the better half.
You’ve been under the doctor, she said.
Anal warts! she shouted.
In poor fiction and particularly in inadequately scripted television plays characters frequently say things in the course of a conversation that are intended not to communicate with the other person conversing but with the audience. Sometimes one character will tell another things that the other already knows (“I am your father!”) and sometimes on the telephone one player will repeat what the other says because the audience can hear only one end of the conversation.
That was not the case here. The better half was not repeating what Thumper had said for my benefit, let alone yours. She was doing what my friend John, who is a psychotherapist, calls ‘taking ownership’. Thumper’s anal warts become real to her when she names them, as it were, in her telephone conversation. She was ‘taking ownership’ of them.
Indeed shortly afterwards I heard her say, ‘Leave them alone, Thumper. You’ll only make them worse’.
When she ended the conversation I put the Spectator to one side.
Thumper has anal warts?
It was I Will Always Love You that did it, she said, brushing aside a tear. With sax solo. It was too much. I blame myself. He may never fart again.
Four main verbs! In my mind’s eye I saw my dear dog, at the edge of her pillow, on his back with all four paws and his tail erect.
It never hurt Rod Stewart, I said. He had nodes, didn’t he? That of course was his vocal chords and not his bottom, which may make a difference.
That got a ‘two’.
She jumped out of bed.
I’d better go and sort it all out, she said.
You’re too caring, I said, and returned to Rod Liddle.