Michael Foot on why he loved his dog Dizzy
In this article, first published in the Ham&High in August 1996, the late Michael Foot explains his affection for his dog Dizzy, his constant companion on Hampstead Heath. The article later appeared in The Uncollected Michael Foot, Essays Old And New, 195
In this article, first published in the Ham&High in August 1996, the late Michael Foot explains his affection for his dog Dizzy, his constant companion on Hampstead Heath. The article later appeared in The Uncollected Michael Foot, Essays Old And New, 1953 - 2003, published by Politico's Publishing in 2003, the year of his 90th birthday.
My old dog Dizzy learns new tricks so fast that I cannot understand how the proverbial libel against the breed ever gained currency. The more decrepit my own pace becomes, the more he looks for new diversions of his own with a mixed glance of scorn and insolence. His latest escapade is a sudden turn of speed down Parliament Hill, which famous mount fringes the Heath itself, with no less than three subsequent glances backwards to ensure that I am properly limping along the same alley.
Once Guy Fawkes' friends watched from those same vantage points; if they had shown an ingenuity comparable to Dizzy's they would never have been caught. However, dogs are seldom given credit for their wisdom, inherited or acquired. There seems to a feline conspiracy to deny it to them, whereas cats are constantly accorded a whole range of subtle virtues.
H.N. Brailsford wrote magnificently not only about the Levellers and the Thomas Paineite revolutionaries, but also about his appreciation of cats. He was not content at all to extol their haughty independence. 'The smuggest of suburban hearth-rugs is a crossroads between Delphi and Thebes, and the homeliest of tabbies a sphinx who defines you, as she purrs, to answer the simple question - whether a cat has ever purred alone.'
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But all good dogs, with Dizzy at their head, have a virtue for which they are seldom given credit and to which no cats of any breed have ever aspired. It is their sudden gift for forgiveness, their readiness to forget what must seem to them interminable periods of absence, their overwhelming magnanimity. It is the most glorious of human qualities but one which dogs seem to acquire and display much more naturally.
It is second nature for them; they can restore high spirits with a simple yelp or a single lick. Where did they learn the effects of an endearing demeanour to be unclosed at the most significant moments? If the human race had acquired such a gift for discounting offences, how the history of mankind and womankind might have been bettered - say since the Trojan Wars. But wait. We dog lovers may suppose that the mere mention of Troy may clinch our case, but somehow my mind is jogged in the opposite direction.
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The Trojan war was one thing: Odysseus's voyage was another, and now I recall how the wittiest and most wondrous of our modern poets, one who writes in an idiom all her own, one who can herself touch the heights of Alexander Pope or Andrew Marvell, has written on this theme. She puts a leash on the dogs, glorifies, the cats and exposes the Odyssey all in the same piece.
The author is U.A. Fanthorpe: her latest book of poems is called Safe as Houses, published by Peterloo Poets. Nothing is safe in her hands: not even my Dizzy, who listened in rapt but discriminating adoration at Dartington Hall, when she recited her poem. Her poetry is one of the delights of the age. Her 'Odysseus's Cat' in only one of her perfectly executed pieces of impertinence.