By Dave Silver

BACK in the day when all my faculties were functioning (and when I even HAD faculties), I would take my dog Brian out for long walks along the grimy, tired and worn-out back streets which lay in the shadow of chimneys belching black smoke.

‘Hold on a minute!’ interjected Mrs S who as usual was eavesdropping on my thoughts. ‘It wasn’t like that at all. We lived in a lovely neighbourhood when we got married. The estate went downhill only because you dragged it down.’

‘I know, I know,’ I said knowingly. ‘But I thought a Dickensian-type description would appeal to my Courier readers. They love a good tale.’

‘Quite honestly, I don’t think you have any readers left,’ said Mrs S bluntly. ‘And please don’t drag our darling Brian into your made-up mess. I loved that dog.’

‘Brian dragged me into his own mess often enough!’ I retorted. I was telling a lie, of course. One of the great things about Brian was that he had bowels which worked like clockwork and he never embarrassed me in public — well, only the once when he decided uncharacteristically to evacuate his innards in the middle of a busy road with an articulated lorry fast approaching.

It turned out that Brian was just joking with me. He had a strange sense of humour, that dog did. As the giant truck was about to hit us, Brian abandoned his squatting position on the central white line and legged it to the opposite kerb, dragging me behind him.

Mind you, when I think about it, I’m not so sure that the lorry driver wasn’t in on Brian’s joke. It’s fortunate really that I’m not paranoid.

Anyway, the second great thing about my dog was that he wasn’t a hamster. As a young lad growing up in the grimy, tired and worn-out back streets which lay in the shadow of belching chimneys (that part of my history IS true), I became the owner of a creature named Hannibal.

I introduced the hamster to his other housemates, namely Rover the dog, Tiddles the cat, and Joey the budgie, but Hannibal affected a somewhat anti-social manner, tending to wander off into corners whenever the other beasties were around.

‘I don’t think that Hammy the Hanster . . . er, I mean Hanny the Hamster, likes living here that much,’ I observed to Mother.

‘That’s easy for you to say,’ she said.

‘Actually, it wasn’t all that easy to say,’ I said.

‘Stop taking me so literally!’ Mother barked. (It could have been Rover who actually barked but it all happened so long ago.)

Anyway, Mother explained that as the newest member of the family, Hannibal had to be given more time to get used to us. ‘Just think,’ she went on, ‘To a hamster we must appear as two-legged giants clad in cloth apparel who speak in a strange tongue.’

I scratched my head, puzzled. ‘I don’t reckon Hanny sees it that way when he looks at Rover the dog, Tiddles the cat and Joey the budgie.’ Mother turned to my father. ‘You’re staying quiet. What do you think?’

Dad thought for a moment and then said: ‘I think the pub’s open.’

It turned out that I was correct. Although Hannibal the hamster mellowed a bit, he still looked as if he didn’t belong. ‘I reckon we should put Hanny up for adoption,’ I ventured.

Mother sighed. ‘If you think that’s best, I shall accede to your wishes. At the same time, I think your father should be adopted, too. HE’S the one who can’t seem to settle in this house, especially during the hostelry’s hours of business.’

I packed up Hannibal and his belongings and traipsed through the grimy, tired and worn-out back streets which lay in the shadow of chimneys belching black smoke. I ended my mission of mercy at the home of my best friend Eric the (future) dentist.

It turned out to be a match made in hamster heaven. Eric the (future) dentist and Hannibal hit it off immediately. Eric loved his new pet because he was a rodent with a single pair of continuously growing incisors in each of the upper and lower jaws.

The two played Dentists and Patients throughout the day. Hannibal would lie flat on his back while Eric bent over him, examining and polishing those long teeth. The game appealed to my best friend because he was fired with enthusiasm for his subsequent career in the tooth business. And Hannibal, of course, loved all the attention.

So all was well that ended well. Everyone was happy except Tiddles the cat who unbeknownst to us had fallen deeply in love with Hannibal but because it seemed an odd love match, the poor moggie had kept his mouth shut about his unrequited feelings.

Fast-forward to the present. ‘Well?’ I said, turning to Mrs S. ‘What did you think of that story?’

Mrs S sighed. ‘It’s no wonder your dad spent every single minute of his spare time at the pub. I sometimes wish you would do the same.’

I grabbed my hat and coat. ‘Wish granted,’ I said, hurtling out of the house.

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