A Dear Reader asked for the story of Stanley the Dog.
There is no time to tell the full, antic tale. I will tell it one day.
But for Stanley fans (and there are a gratifying number) here is a little précis.
He is known in my mother’s house as the Whizz-About Dog. Because he whizzes about. He is very, very busy. He must look for squirrels, beat the bounds, inspect any possible food sources, and check for intruders.
Being a half-greyhound lurcher, he is astonishingly fast. His highest speed so far has been clocked at 32 miles an hour. When I told The Mother this, she looked very faintly disappointed. ‘What was Frankel’s highest speed?’ she said. I suddenly realised that she had decided Stanley was in the same league as the wonder horse. He’s got a little way to go before he can do 43mph.
He is a Steve McQueen dog. There is not a door, including those of the car, which he cannot open. Sometimes he lets himself out and politely shuts the door behind him. No one knows how he does this.
No comestible is safe. He once opened a firmly closed tin of amaretti biscuits, and despite the fact that they were individually sealed in tricky cellophane packets, liberated and scoffed the lot.
He yowls and leaps and yelps when I watch the racing. When Andy Murray went three games down in the second set at Wimbledon he actually looked into my eyes and let out a low, sustained howl.
He is devoted at the moment to catching bluebottles. He hurls himself in the air, jaws snap-snap-snapping like a crocodile on speed. He will not rest in this vital task.
When he wants love, he stops whizzing about and comes and puts his chin on my knee and gazes plaintively into my face.
He loves a car journey, and gazes intently ahead through the windscreen as if checking the horizon for bugs.
He is very, very funny.
He has a crush on Autumn the Filly. In order to cover up his great love, he barks at her and herds her and jumps at her, but when he thinks nobody is looking, he goes up and touches his nose to hers. Amazingly, despite the fact that he is so jumpy and barky, she puts her head down to his and blinks gently at him.
Because he was very uncertain about the horses to start with, and prone to leaping five feet in the air and attempting to nip their muzzles, he has performed the most valuable act of desensitising we could have asked for. If we ever meet a crazed pooch out on the trail, our girls will just look at it as if to say: Ha, you have not met Stanley. (Red did actually encounter a barky dog yesterday and did not bat an eyelid. Its owner was astonished.)
I never thought any dog could fill the shoes of the Duchess and the Pigeon. But somehow I landed on my feet, and got this extraordinarily special fellow. I love him to bits.