A stag-do train ride on the East Coast Mainline and a dog with a taste for human detritus lighten up the lives of our correspondents this week.
As I write this, Stanley the standard-size sausage dog puppy is sleeping soundly in his basket, like a much hairier Baby Jesus in his manger.
Much to Stanley’s disappointment, there is no guardian angel. Only me, his live-in carer for three nights. His parents are taking a break from puppy playtime to celebrate a big birthday and I’m calling their house in London home for a weekend.
Stanley (four months) and I have already had our fair share of disagreements. I prefer to wear cashmere; he prefers to eat it. I think a Christmas tree is quite a nice thing to look at; he thinks it’s a trespasser that must be destroyed. I don’t like to talk to strangers in the street; he thinks that everyone must be greeted and kissed.
Then there are the things that we definitely do agree on, chiefly that every meal is sacred and must not be missed and that an early night is the best kind of night.
The day-to-day of keeping a dog in London is entirely different to keeping a dog… not in London. Stanley is not afraid of cars, tall people or loud noises (three big no-no’s for my parent’s dog Patzy). He’s happy to forego grass and pound the pavement, and has excellent coffee shop etiquette.
In London, a dog just comes everywhere with you. If you’re not in London, walkies aside, the dog stays at home.
Maybe it’s a big city thing? When someone tried to ban New Yorkers from taking all dogs bar ones in bags on the subway, they simply cut holes in the bottom of IKEA bags and popped their staffie’s/great dane’s/retriever’s legs straight through and carried on as normal, such was their commitment to having their dogs by their sides at all time.
So far, so good.
Keep a dog in London though (and probably New York) and you’re suddenly acutely aware of all the debris and disgusting, likely life-threatening objects littering the pavements.
On our morning walk, Stanley found several nails, a pool of human vomit (delicious, apparently), a make-up brush, a discarded Christmas wreath festooned in dangerous-looking red berries and more wet wipes and tissues than I could count.
So, on behalf of Stanley the standard-size sausage dog puppy, I’d like to quickly remind you to put your rubbish in the bin. It’ll make London look nicer and keep a lot of dogs out of harm’s way.
Last weekend saw my return to one society’s richest traditions: the stag do.
I’m not entirely sure who, or what, came up with the idea that to celebrate a man’s impending nuptials one must consume every single beer within a five-mile radius, but it appears to be quite a popular one. So, after two years of blessed relief from this liver-liquefying ritual, five mates and I piled on to a train at King’s Cross and headed north for Newcastle.
There is nothing quite like the look of sheer disappointment and upset that manifests itself on the faces of train passengers when they see six blokes walking down the aisle carrying a slab of beer, a litre of gin and two bottles of port. You can see their lips move as they mutter whispered prayers, desperately hoping that the danger will roll past and into the next carriage; and then you see their shoulders sink and their eyes tear up as the group check the seat numbers against their reservations. They know what’s about to happen, and they know there is very little they can do to stop it.
I almost wanted to reassure them that I was just unhappy about the situation as they were, but I doubt it would have helped.
We were somewhere around Peterborough on the edge of the Fens when the booze took hold. David, the stag, had been forced to change into a blue suit covered in goldfish and was struggling to do up his waistcoat, as he couldn’t get the buttons to line up. The gin had been consumed, and then shared with others in the carriage, who probably felt that the best course of action was to join in rather than ride out the inevitable carnage. Hogarth would have recognised the scene.
National Rail had advised us to travel north ‘if only absolutely necessary’, which obviously this stag party was. Storm Arwen was in full swing, and by the time we got to York the increasingly Munchian landscape of the carriage was no doubt looking forward to us disembarking in an hour. Naturally, we were then delayed by a further two.
By the time we made it up north, the stag had lost most of his possessions, and certainly his dignity. We tried to remedy this in time-honoured fashion by taking him to a curry house, whereby David promptly ate the paper menu while the waitress tried to take his order.
What happened over the next two days is a blur, but I seem to remember that it mostly involved further drinking and go karting. The snow came in sideways, relentlessly, and the wind could pierce any number of layers that you dared throw on. Despite this, Saturday night in town still saw the majority of revellers in short skirts, heels and t-shirts. Much like having a ‘few too many beers’ on a stag do, the Geordie’s desire to wear minimal clothing regardless of the conditions remains unperturbed by any events of the past 18 months.
We got our just desserts. Sitting down in our seats for the journey back to London, all was quiet. Heads were sore, mouths were impossibly dry, eyes red. All we begged for was a peaceful four hours of sleep and music back to London. Nobody was talking.
And that’s when we heard them, the lads. In they came, with beers and gin, and down they sat. Karma had found us, and it was time to pay the bill, and we paid dearly indeed.