Spectator: Lucy on the family Easter visit

There are a number of very expensive goose eggs, in their smart protective boxes, taking up too much space on the work surface. They’re next to the blueberries, beetroot juice, brown onions, turmeric and red cabbage. Once blown and dyed, they will be the charming and tasteful present we shall take to our Easter hosts.

I haven’t tried this before, but am hoping for a better result than the gigantic balloon/pom-pom combination of last year’s rabbit we presented to my brother -a sinister-looking object.
Our hosts this year are aesthetic by nature, so the chances that they’ll be enraptured by some streaky eggs are very remote indeed. But no matter, the main motive is to distract them from the fact that we’ll also have brought our dog. They’re not dog lovers and Fletcher hasn’t yet been mentioned in the ‘what shall we bring’ conversations.

My mother has recently acquired -from an excellent organisation that rehomes dogs for people who can no longer cope-a character called Ellie-we think that’s her name, although she doesn’t answer to it. Ellie is completely charming, combining the (large) body of a seal with a small and attractive head, all covered in a curly coat that reminds me of the blond, permed TV detective Van der Valk. My mother is in love.

Ellie does, however, have a few faults, which will not go down well with my brother, which is where my mother has been invited for Easter. Ellie isn’t reliably house-trained, she barks at the television and she’s a thief of epic proportions. She’s impossible to chastise, lolling lopsidedly away from
a stern word while wiggling her hips like a busty madam. And anyway, my mother has always managed to defend the behaviour of her dogs-for example, when Ellie’s predecessor attacked and killed one of my chickens, it was definitely the chicken’s fault-but even she’s a little nervous about Easter.

She doesn’t need reminding that the chicken killer also dug up the parquet floor in my brother’s house. ‘That actually was a blessing,’ she maintains, ‘because that’s how they found the dry rot.’ I’m not sure my brother sees it that way.

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The good news is that Ellie has a cast-iron constitution and can eat apple cores, fish bones, plastic pens… well, anything, actually, without any adverse reaction. She ate the cattle feed she found in a trough yesterday, the guinea-pig food in our garden today. When we heard an almighty crash coming from the kitchen, my mother said ‘Oh, you didn’t leave food around did you?’ as we raced towards it. Well, not really, Mum, but it is a kitchen. Ellie had upended the bin, which, unlike the one at my mother’s house, doesn’t live on top of the freezer with a brick on the lid.

Eggs and Ellie can’t be a good combination, especially as my brother still feels, very keenly, the Easter of his childhood when our dog ate all his eggs while we were at church and was then sick on his bed. That, come to think of it, is an upside. Ellie won’t be sick.

I broach the subject. ‘Have you told them you’re taking Ellie?’ I ask. ‘Have you told your friends you’re bringing Flet-cher?’ she counters. We both agree that to turn up with a surprise dog is absolutely unacceptable.

I’m looking at the eggs and decide I’m being unambitious. I’ve still got time to make a 2ft tissue-paper chicken. In which I can disguise Fletcher. And if my brother leaves the sinister rabbit out, Ellie will probably eat it, which might go down rather well. ‘Do you think Mum will cut me out of her will if I write about Ellie’s eating habits?’ I ask the siblings. ‘I wouldn’t worry,’ they reply breezily. ‘She’ll probably leave it all to Ellie anyway.’

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