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Andy Richardson: Happiness is dog shaped in these ruffest of times

By Andy Richardson | Weekend | Published:

We placed an advertisement in Loot, the classified ads mag. Our small flat behind London’s Camden Palace was soon to lose a tenant, Lionel, a Frenchman who worked as the publisher of an adult interest magazine. Flamboyant and with a mane of curly black hair, he was moving on having spent the previous year looking at photographs that may have affected his eyesight.

Happiness is dog shaped in these ruffest of times

My fellow tenant, Joanne, and I, needed someone to take Lionel’s room and so we placed our ad.

“Wanted. Tenant. Flat as small as a front room. Over a garage that houses Pizza Hut motorbikes, so don’t expect an unbroken night’s sleep – they’re always revving their engines at 2am. Rent extortionate. Landlord absent. No living room, just a small table in a poky kitchen. No bath, just a shower. And obviously no garden. Walls – paper thin. Privacy – none.”

We were sure there’d be lots of takers. In Camden, there always were. The year was 1995 and we were in the middle of Britpop. Camden was its epicentre. You were as likely to bump into Blur’s Damon Albarn or Oasis’s Liam Gallagher as you were the postman.

We had the predictable slew of applications. All those revving engines and absence of liveable space was mitigated by the fact you could roll out of bed and stagger up to the Dublin Castle within ten minutes. Sweet.

The new arrival would be living with Joanne, a woman with a penchant for rock music who was three sandwiches short of a picnic, and yours truly, who, while working at the New Musical Express, was as likely to be commuting to New York or Los Angeles as I was central London.

We listened back to the phone messages, arbitrarily rejecting perfectly decent applicants for some unclear grievance – we hadn’t liked an accent or we had a thing against vets, ruling out a particular application.

Eventually, we created a shortlist and showed it to three unlucky wannabes. The viewings took approximately two minutes: up a single flight of stairs, into a boxy room, quick look at the loo/shower and walk into the poky kitchen. All were excellent, how would we divide them? We created our own, instantaneous psychometric test. Except instead of asking questions related to mechanical reasoning, numerical reasoning or verbal reasoning we asked questions that we imagined would reveal some dark secret about the applicants’ personalities. Ah, the joys of being 24 and utterly, utterly stupid.

Our questions were piercingly intelligent and ran something like this: what’s your favourite colour, name your favourite band, what would you do if you were trapped in a room that was filled with balloons and the clincher: are you a dog person or a cat person?

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The successful applicant was an eminently sensible young woman called Michelle who’d listed her favourite colour as red, said her favourite band were Oasis, would pop the balloons if they were blocking her path and said she’d far rather have a dog than a cat. Her preference for dogs earned her Lionel’s old room, a dubious prize if ever there was one. What if he left behind some of the magazines he’d worked on? Eugh.

We warmed to Michelle and her passion for all things K-9. After all dogs were loyal, dependable and would always have your back. Cats would push you from the top of a ladder, would scratch your face for fun during the middle of the night and would steal from your fridge if only they could grow thumbs to open the damn door.

Today, Weekend celebrates the Joy Of Pets as we reflect on the unbridled joy that they bring. We are a nation of animal lovers and this week it’s time to celebrate our affection for cats and dogs, rabbits and hamsters, snakes and a hippopotamus (thank you South African animal lover Tonie Joubert, for having one of the world’s weirdest companions).

Pets have had a magnificent pandemic. While a small number have fallen victim to Covid-19 – imagine that, your master throws you a ball and when you return it, slobber-mouthed, you realise you’re eating his coronavirus; sometimes life sucks – most have provided a lifeline during lockdown. We’re realised more assuredly than ever how much we need our companions from the animal kingdom. They’ve enjoyed having us home more often – except for cats, of course, who’ve been entirely dissatisfied that we’re taking up room in ‘their’ home when we ought to be out hunting sachets of gourmet food as they slumber through the day.

So here’s to pets everywhere; the joy-bringers, smile-givers, day-improvers and happiness-providers who get us from one side of the day to the other.

Michelle, incidentally, the girl in the Camden flat, turned out to be the right choice. I only wished I’d asked the same questions of Joanne. It turned out her favourite animal was a snake.

Andy Richardson

By Andy Richardson
Feature Writer - @andyrichardson1

Feature writer and food critic Andy Richardson interviews celebrities, writes columns and hangs out with chefs for stories that appear across all group titles.

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