The word ‘grooming’ has acquired increasingly distasteful undertones of late but my own distaste for the word goes further back, to a time when being ‘well-groomed’ was practically the highest compliment a man could pay to a woman and not one I particularly wanted paid to me. My Dad tried to get me to be well-groomed with a mixture of bullying and flattery; “you’ve got a bloody good pair of pins, I don’t know why you don’t want to show them off”, and so on. I didn’t wear lipstick until I was forty and then, with perverse poetic justice, I fell in love with a man who wanted me trussed up in pencil skirts and seamed stockings every day of the week.
Little wonder, then, that when the puppy nurse began her little lecture on Grooming, my eyes glazed over and I had to suppress the impulse to hum a loud crazed tune with my fingers in my ears. Clean Hector’s teeth? I don’t think so. (Chewing bones will surely see to that). Clipping toenails? (He is not a lap dog!) Cleaning out his ears once a week? (Are you kidding?) The only concession I made to grooming was the tender ritual of wiping sleepy-dust and grass seeds out of the corners of his eyes, and a quick run of a brush through his coat when I remembered. A lick and a promise, as they used to say.
The other thing – and how laughable it seems now – is that I was so besotted with puppy Hector that when he didn’t moult for the first few months, I persuaded myself, egotistically, that I had lucked out with an extra special, unique, one-off, no-shedding Labrador. Ha!
For months now there has been hair, hair, everywhere. There’s a permanent slick of it, like the line of crushed black seaweed you sometimes get along the beach, along the carpet underneath the edges of the sofas and the armchairs. It silts up corners, floats like dust-motes in the air. I find it in my dinner, in my mouth, my trousers, on my toothbrush, stuck to walls, top-dressing all the skirting boards, woven like a kind of scratchy tweed into every piece of soft furnishing material in the house, and even on the highest tread of the spiral staircase up which Hector has never ever trod. “How did it get there?” is my constant wondering refrain. It is, without a doubt, the worst thing about having a dog, and, like the pain of childbirth, people do not warn you.
I bought a Furminator. ‘Brush for ten to twenty minutes’, said the instructions. Ten to twenty minutes! Even two minutes made my shoulder seize up. And it tore at Hector’s skin like a combine harvester. I was harvesting at least half a carrier bag of hair a day. The very sight of its vicious little teeth made him cower like Bill Sykes’s cur. And still the hair kept coming.
So now I’ve given up and given in. Pull back the duvet on the spare bed where I take my coffee in the mornings, work, read, watch films on my iPad, and where Hector is allowed, and the once white sheet is black with hair and jumping with grit. Occasionally I hoover it. Occasionally I squish a piece of grit with my thumbnail just to make sure it is not a flea. Mostly I just live with it.
What the hell! Hector swims most days so at least it’s clean hair. Should I change the sheet today? No. It will be just as bad again by tomorrow. Will my cleaner Maggie leave me in disgust? No. She was quite put out when I mentioned it. “It’ll take more than that to get rid of me!”, she said, the doughty girl. But let’s see, in four years time when I have done my Masters in the Quentin Crisp School of Housework.
Once, when I had left home and moved into my own flat, Mum came to visit and, spotting a vase of dead flowers on the mantelpiece, suggested in a worried voice that I might be “slipping”. Mum, there’s no doubt now, I’ve slipped: irredeemably, sartorially (big white cheap cotton knickers, note, potential boyfriends), and domestically.
I’ve realised, too, that I can trace the genesis of my descent to the time when, as a child, I was taken to visit some aristocratic friends of my parents in a Scottish castle. I had imagined there’d be chandeliers, mile long highly polished banqueting tables, liveried footmen and the like. But we were ushered into a cosy room with a roaring fire, a pile of muddy wellies in the corner, and three old sagging sofas practically upholstered in dogs and so begrimed and chewed and hairy that it was impossible to guess from which Clan of Chintz the family came. Something shifted seismically in my understanding of class and ‘classy. (You mean there is no inviolable moral imperative to keep a clean house?) These people were obviously too posh to push the dogs off the couch and I remember thinking, right then, ‘I would like to live like this’.
And so, it seems, I am. If any BBC documentary maker wishes to cast me as a member of a go-back-in-time reality show set in a medieval hovel, be my guest. I have become immune to squalor. And unless (hint hint) Mum buys me the latest Dyson with the Groom Tool Vacuum Assisted Dog Groomer, that’s the way it’s going to stay.
I wonder if I could sell the hair on E-bay?