We didn’t, in the end, dress Fletcher the dachshund as an Easter chicken. I simply gave our hosts very little notice and assured them that he would be no trouble. ‘He can stay in the car,’ I said. This is actually his favourite place as he can snarl and bark at trespassers, also known as pedestrians.
‘Okay,’ replied our reluctant hosts, ‘but we’ve got a fairly new cat-the love of our lives. He’s injured himself by leaping out of the attic window and missing the tree. The dog won’t chase him will he?’ I am thrilled-chasing cats isn’t among Fletcher’s many vices.
We arrive. We let Fletcher out of the car. We all hug hello. The dog catches sight of a small black object on the other side of the garden. The object sees him and darts across the lawn. Fletcher is transformed from miniature dachshund to speeding bullet. The lame cat makes it to a window ledge and Fletcher is put back in the car.
Things go pretty well after that. Short runs. Back in the car. Bit of a walk. Back in the car. We lose a rocket and a cricket ball in the long grass and I think he’s going to win over his hosts by finding them like a ground-seeking missile. But then, we lose him, too. Until we wonder why a passing car has stopped in the lane by the field-it can’t move forward as there’s a dachshund lying in front of it like a silent protest. Back in the car.
We prepare to leave for the magic show being put on by a friend at a nearby house. We gather round the car and see that Zam’s keys are lying on the driver’s seat where they’ve been trodden on by Fletcher, who is now completely and centrally locked in. He’s stood on the keys so brilliantly that he has also closed the windows. We don’t have a spare set.
Bad memories of locked cars crowd in on me. I locked Olive in the car on our first venture out of the house. She was 10 days old, it was December and I stared at her purple, screaming face through the frozen window for hours while waiting for Zam’s key to be motorbike-couriered to me.
I once locked the children in the car, on purpose, while I went into the shop next door. A man was standing by it when I emerged, about five minutes later, shouting that he would call Social Services. When I asked why, he said the car could have exploded. I hate being shouted at and drove away in tears.
Locked cars and locked bathrooms: I once had to be rescued from a French loo by stepladder and I had a long stand-off with a child in my care who couldn’t reach the loo paper in the cubicle at the Zoo. She refused to get off the seat because ‘my mummy says I mustn’t till I’ve used the paper’, which meant, after much ineffective pleading, that I had to launch paper over the wall until the child could catch it. Locks make me edgy.
We try to coax Fletcher back to the driver’s seat, but don’t have a handy stranger to parade at the window, which would, we know, have him leaping up and down on the keys. I fetch the cat and hold it up. I’m not proud of using a crippled cat as key bait, but Fletcher is beginning to pant in the Easter sunshine. Zam points out that the dog will also have to turn the keys over.
This is when we ring the AA, who could not be more courteous and who assure us that we are considered a priority. Zam misses the magic show, but witnesses his own little miracle when the AA man wedges the door open a crack, inserts a wedge, then a balloon-like thing and, finally, a stick with a hook on it. Within minutes, the car is unlocked.
We return and, as we pull in, we feel and hear a crunch. It’s not Fletcher, who is sunning himself, but our hostess has run over his supper, which is now a pile of broken bits and gravy. Nobody, not even Fletcher, really cares. We put him back in the car.
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