Like a Jack Russell trying to bark down a tree, WILL SELF says dogs – especially old and small ones – can aptly describe the UK’s position in the world.
The airways have been ultrasonically whistling these past few weeks with the news that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District, has – together with her rather more prosaically named boyfriend, Riley Roberts – acquired a French bulldog. The dog – who the couple have named ‘Deco’ after the, um, Art Deco design style – has opened AOC (as she’s popularly referred to in the US media) up to far more sustained criticism than her wildly left-wing views – let alone her own breeding. The charge is that by purchasing a pure bred dog rather than adopting a rescue one, the couple have betrayed their own principles.
Of course, on this side of the pond, as we snuffle our way towards the dog-flap that will allow us to exit the overheated and claustrophobic European Union, the thing that most upsets us about AOC’s choice of breed is that it seems a sickening sort of miscegenation: French bulldog – what’s that about? Surely all true bulldogs are of the British variety; and moreover, the playground game of the same name – wherein testosterone-fuelled boys beat the proverbial s**t out of each other – was the very battlefield upon which the martial spirit of Mark Francois et al. was formed.
Family Self, for one, is the proud possessor of fine English dog: Maglorian, a 12-year-old Jack Russell. Named by my then 10-year-old son after one of the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest next to Hogwarts, I like to think that Maglorian also embodies the 1707 Union of England and Scotland in his shivery little body: although show him a pristine platform 10½ and he’ll s**t on it… profusely. Jack Russells were originally called Parson Jacks, after the resolutely C of E clergyman who bred them into existence. To begin with they ran with the hunt, just like any other foxhounds, but as the years went by they were bred smaller, so they could be put down into the sets and flush out the quarry – and then bred yet smaller still, so they could be used as ratters.
Maglorian is a very petite Jack Russell indeed, and frankly, given the size of the rats hereabouts, he constitutes no part of a hostile environment – at least for them; he does, however, retain the instinct to shake his prey to death in his powerful – if picayune – jaws. Sticks, single-use plastic bags, waxed paper cups, human ankles – these, and many others beside, fear the onslaught of the little demon. I say ‘demon’ because Maglorian is a very yappy, snappy dog – his bark being only marginally better than his truly unpleasant bite. A few years ago some animal behaviourists did a study of aggression in dog breeds, wherein they filmed the animals over several months, to see how many times, and to what degree, they responded to provocation. Jack Russells came in at No.3 in the hellhound hit parade – and, as any remotely honest owner will concede, if you scaled these mutts up to the size of, say, a Labrador, no one would want to give them house room.
But Maglorian is getting on now – Jacks can live as long as 20 years, but his mother died last year at the age of 15, and I suspect he’s not that long for this fissiparous world of ours. He has bad cataracts that have reduced his vision by 50% – and arthritis in his back legs, that disbar him from his wild leaping-and-crotch-biting antics of yesteryear. I was at the vet’s last week, getting him an anti-inflammatory shot for the latter condition, and discussing the renewal of his pet passport. Yes, Maglorian has a passport of his own – and a microchip that can be scanned when he enters or leaves the European Union, to check that he’s been vaccinated against rabies. Of course, it may be that the EU will come to its senses, and refuse him entry after the 31st of this month.
At any rate, just as with the precise arrangements for human traffic, there’s no agreement yet on whether the pet passport scheme as is, will continue after we valiant bulldogs have left the effete poodle of a multinational confederation by which we’ve been muzzled for the past half-century. It’s this, as much as his purblindness, his lameness, his tininess and his nastiness that makes Maglorian such a brilliant personification of Johnsonian Brexit Britain. Indeed, whenever I hear that well-worn – and frankly embarrassing – expression ‘punching above our weight on the international stage’, I invariably picture Maglorian, attempting to render some mighty fallen tree bough yet more inert. It was an Irishman, Oscar Wilde, who described fox hunting as “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” – a phrase that’s as suggestive of Dominic Raab in negotiation with Michel Barnier, as it is of Maglorian’s genetically-determined, but utterly futile murderousness.