The Independent, Wednesday 16 May 2012
Dr Johnson was famously sniffy about dogs walking on their hind legs. So I’m not sure he’d have been entranced by Pudsey, the mop-haired pooch whose owner swept up a £500,000 prize at the weekend. Ashleigh Butler, who’s 17, has trained her collie-cross to dance on his hind legs, and their barn-storming performance took them to victory in the final of Britain’s Got Talent.
It’s not long, either, since a lovable Jack Russell called Uggie tugged the heart-strings of movie-goers who saw the Oscar-winning French film The Artist. Uggie has received almost as much attention as the movie’s human stars, so I guess that I – and Dr Johnson, were he still alive – have no choice but to acknowledge the public’s continuing love affair with performing animals.
I like animals myself. A cat is asleep on my desk as I write, and over several decades I’ve shared my home with a nervous ginger tom, a couple of rescue tabbies, and a series of talkative Burmese. I’m conscious of the temptation to anthropomorphise them but, luckily, cats are just about impossible to train. They do what they like – Freud developed his theory of narcissism after observing a cat – and that’s one of the things I
most enjoy about them.
Dogs are a different matter. The affection between Ashleigh and Pudsey is obvious but I can’t help feeling unsettled by the reaction to what is basically a novelty animal act. hat bothers me, I think, is that dogs trust their owners and want to please them. The relationship is akin to that between an adult and a human toddler, and as such it belongs in the private sphere.
I’m uncomfortable about animals as entertainment, and I wonder how many times people want to watch a dog prancing around on stage. I also wonder whether there’s much of a difference between novelty dog acts and the circus animals I saw as a child: elephants balancing on stools and chimps mimicking human behaviour. Thankfully, a growing awareness of the need to treat animals with dignity has changed the public mood. Circus animals still exist – the RSPCA says there are between 150 and 200 performing animals in this country – but they feel like an anachronism.
In the past couple of days, I’ve seen interview after interview with Ashleigh and Pudsey, alongside speculation that they’re “on their way to Hollywood”. Simon Cowell, whose influence on public taste is a thing to behold – not in a good way, I hasten to add – says the pair are one of his “favourite ever acts”. Maybe we’re about to see a revival in movies starring animals, with Lassie and Rin Tin Tin coming to mind.
But I can’t help remembering Juvenal’s acerbic remark about the Roman populace’s taste for panem et circenses – bread and circuses. In hard economic times, people tend to be cruel and sentimental by turns, and it seems that performing dogs have hit the spot. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – canem et circenses.
When the bath is your office
Working from home can be a bit of a shock if you’ve never done it. So I have some timely advice for the thousands of civil servants who’ve been told they needn’t go intothe office for seven weeks during the Olympics.
It’s absolutely fine to work in your pyjamas. I often spend two or three hours at the computer in my nightie before I even think about getting dressed, which is one of the reasons I’m not keen on camera phones. Oh, and people who call from offices can be surprised if you answer from the bath, so keep splashing noises at a minimum.
On occasion, I work in bed, which has its own pitfalls. I once spotted my iPhone bumping round in the washing machine, where I’d accidentally bundled it with a heap of dirty sheets. Even the smartest of smartphones is liable to emerge dumb from a 40C environmentally friendly washcycle.
Yep – same dress, different parties
Another survey, another opportunity to wonder why I’m not like other women – the ones that take part in surveys, that is. The latest suggests that four-fifths of women think their wardrobe is incomplete without an LBD (or little black dress), but few wear it more than twice. They don’t want their friends to see them wearing the same dress, apparently, so they leave it in the cupboard for up to 11 years. By which time, of course, it doesn’t fit.
This may explain why I’ve found so many bargains, including a divine LBD by Gucci, in charity shops. But, then, I’m not afraid of wearing the same dress several times. I’ve even – gulp – worn the same outfit on consecutive evenings. Real women don’t care about such things, or so I tell myself until I come across the next survey.