Dogs in strange places

Of all the vegetable festivals in all the vales in all the world, they had to be part of this one.

It is an unlikely venue, the British Asparagus Festival, to be overrun with dogs. Held in asparagus mecca, Evesham, somewhere in the triangle between Worcester, Cheltenham and Stratford-Upon-Avon, it celebrates the delicate green gourmet spears, that food of love, with idiosyncratic charm.

It spans a very long lunch hour indeed: from St George’s Day to Midsummer Night’s Eve. But that’s the thing about asparagus. You just can’t stop partying when it’s around.

It inspires lateral thinking, evidenced by the bewildering variety of entertainments laid on in the name of the great green legume: from an aspara-fairy to Gus the Asparagus Man, the asparamancer (who tells your fortune using asparagus) and, of course, the selection and crowning of the asparagus king.

The criteria for such a monarch are stringent: their legs, when painted green, must look like asparagus. At this event of great levity many, many men painted their legs green, but only Police Inspector Michael Brown from Redditch had the requisite qualities to see him crowned reigning monarch of asparagus, 2011.

Into every celebration, a little sprinkling of four-paws must fall.

St George’s Day dawned this year to find Evesham’s Abbey Park packed with doggies all taking part in -wait for it – The Great English Asparagus Run.

You would think they would be running: but the asparagus run was not an athletic event. No; the Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire, Mr Michael Brinton was travelling in a chauffeur driven Morgan Roadster, carrying a Evesham design Royal Worcester plate upon which a “Round” of freshly cut asparagus was authentically “tied” by local asparagus guru Mr Billy Byrd.

The dogs were eating asparagus-based dishes. Yes, a selection of tasty recipes had been prepared to give Mans Best Friend a taste of this vegetable of the Gods.

Dog’s Trust Evesham Centre manager, Chris Slight, comments on the Trust Website:  “Evesham is renowned for its wonderful asparagus and we thought it was about time man’s best friend joined the local community in the celebrations!”

The Trust has taken asparagus to its heart: to the point where a little puppy has been named ‘Gus’ after the august vegetable.

Wherever we are, they are.

Dogs on the pitch, dogs in the heirloom oil-paintings which hang on the walls of our great galleries, matchstork dogs in Lowry’s factory scenes, dogs in Egyptian heiroglyophics. Like them or not, these creatures got their paws under the stone table millennia ago, and they’re part of the rhythm of life.

Woven into each family tree are stories of our four-legged friends. My father’s childhood dog was Whisky; my mother’s was Butch. Butch would let people into the house but he was loth to let anyone out again, least of all suitors for the daughters of the house.

I grew up with Buster the small stubborn white jack russell and Paddy, dappy tight-circle marathon runner, mongrel extraordinaire who could eat three pounds of cheese at a sitting and live.

There was a dog wagging his tail underneath the top table at our wedding: trusty Jack, retriever-labrador cross with a stalwart honour which rendered him beloved to all who knew him. At all the good bits in the speeches an appreciative tail wafted the great white damask cloth back and forth, back and forth.

Winston Churchill’s dog was central to family life.The poodle ate in the family dining room, where a damask cloth was laid out for him on the persian carpet beside the great man himself. The butler always served Rufus’s meal first.

It is said that Rufus sat on Churchill’s lap as he sat in Chequers, watching Oliver Twist. Sykes drowns his dog during the film and Churchill put his hand over Rufus’s eyes, telling him: “Don’t look now, dear. I’ll tell you about it afterwards.”

Whatever we go through, they are there with us. Not understanding, necessarily; but empathising.

Today was my friend Chris’s funeral. There was not a car parking space left by the time we got there. Inside, it was standing room only: all seats had long since been taken.

And then someone handed us an order of service.

On the front was the most wonderful picture of Chris, wearing a beautiful purple top on her fiftieth birthday. She was looking at something with that evaluative ponder she did so well.

And then I turned over the page. And lo and behold, what should I see, but a huge picture of Macaulay, the dog I suppose we shared, shaking his sorry hide in one of the most disreputable poses I think he has ever struck.

It was a lovely service. And Chris’s mother told me that picture, in its frame, was with Chris at that moment. The dog was bathed and dressed in a purple ribbon – Chris’s favourite colour – to honour his invitation to the wake. There he was, in my friend’s name, socialising with all those who loved her.

Because she loved him.

Wherever we are, they are.

Whatever we go through, they are there with us.

Thanks, Macaulay Shrewsday.


34 thoughts on “Dogs in strange places

  1. I do love this post, Kate – a fiiting tribute to your friend, Macauley and man’s best friend. (and who would have thought that Churchill had a poodle?!)

  2. A very moving post, RIP Chris … all the hounds up there are lucky to be welcoming you.
    ps: Do asparagus make dog wee malodorous too?

  3. Kate, a truly wonderful post, from smiles to tears for your friend and your shared love for that eccentric dog.

    How the English love their dogs, it’s a wonderful relationship, full of happy, sad and wierd tails

  4. I love this post, Kate, and the dogs mentioned best of all! I had friends whose border collie welcomed their visitors, but they had to shut her away when the visitors left or they got a bite on the bum! As for Churchill (sweet man) covering his dog (poodle, no less!)’s eyes, I know just how he felt!

  5. A lovely moving post Kate – what a heart stopping moment it must have been to see Macauley’s photo in the Order of Service, but how much she must have loved him.

  6. I’m not an asparagus fan (though I love the ferny foliage), but I can see I’m in the minority! So touching, about Macauley featured in the Order of Service, and in his purple finery at the wake. What a great love! Healing wishes to all your hearts…

  7. There I was, Kate, enjoying your story of the asparagus festival, Churchill’s poodle, and then you caught me unawares, brought me to tears, then a smile, as only you can do with your touching story of Chris’ funeral and of Macauley’s honored place in it. Sweet thoughts, Kate, and blessings as you wade through this loss.

  8. Ah, Kate…what a beautiful, poignant, post. Special love to you all, and Macaulay of course. Thank you for the reminder to be freshly grateful for our four-legged friends – and family members, xo

  9. Ah, Kate! We must stop writing these weepers! I hae put off for a while writing two of the weepiest ones, but eventually! What a lovely thing to happen for Mac, and Chris’s family, and you!

    But I must ask: Did the dogs all pee together following their asparagus repast, and if so, was there a mass exit fromt he festivities to avoid the wonderful unique odor attached to pee following asparagus?

    1. Paula, I was not present at the aftermath to this frankly foolhardy piece of dog husbandry, and I would advise anyone given the choice to steer very clear indeed….:-D

      1. Yes, not too long now. Sate or private holiday season for you? Mine break up on Friday. This Friday

  10. Unexpected ending Kate, even though we knew something of what was going on.

    Nice to read some of your stuff, even though I don’t come here so often.

    Love Dad

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s