It is a startling business, realising you are the spitting image of someone else.
The Ancient Egyptians would say it was Thoth at his schemes again.
One of the more important Egyptian gods, Thoth was amongst many things a settler of disputes, a magician and a scientist. He played a part – in one thread of legend – in coming to the aid of Helen of Troy. And all using a doppelganger, or ‘Ka’, as the Egyptians called them.
A great boat was driven by a storm into the mouth of the Nile. In it was Paris and his newly claimed wife, and a lot of treasure garnered from poor old Menelaus, King of Sparta.
Paris lied extravagantly to the Pharaoh about how he came by his wife; but others told Seti the truth. Helen had been kidnapped, and pined for her husband and family.
Thoth woke Helen up one night soon afterwards and brought forth a double of Helen: a ka, a ghostly likeness. And it was the doppelganger over which all the wars were fought, while Helen hid out in Egypt. Eventually, of course, Menelaus was reunited with his wife.
Doppelganger stories abound: like the English tourist who had a yen to see the fictional state of Ruritania.
The visitor turned out to be an almost identical likeness to the King.
Which was useful, because dastardly Prince Michael, the King’s brother, had the real king kidnapped and drugged the night before the coronation. If the King was not there for the coronation the whole reigning deal was off, and Michael got a shot at the Big Time.
And so the British tourist stepped into the breach.
The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope, is a swashbuckling tale of derringdo and hopeless love, and I have been entertained many a night with the twists and turns of a plot which hinges on a double.
Tales of doubles have come to roost far closer to home, this week.
We had almost finished strolling round the County Show yesterday when we happened to take a turning into a lane we had not yet explored.
Regulations insisted that no dogs be brought by visitors; though stallholders seemed to harbour their fair share.
So Macaulay Shrewsday was safely tucked up on his cushion back in Shrewsday Mansions.
Why, then, was he looking furtive eating something in a small alcove in one of the tented stalls?
Phil did a double take and the whole family reached for their cameras. For never in Macaulay’s seven year lifetime have we ever seen his like. And yet here it sat: his doppelganger. Eating. As usual.
We ran the stallholder to ground . What’s his parentage? we gabbled almost incoherently.
He’s a she, she said.
And her parents were a King Charles spaniel and a miniature Schnauzer. Identical to Macaulay.
We showed her a picture of Mac, and deportment and reserve went out of the window. He’s the spitting image, she shouted happily to anyone who would listen.
This was Lola. Lola had cost £550. The lady’s friend had bought a similar puppy from the same shop. They never saw any parents.
Does yours pack his food away? the lady asked.
Does he, we said. He is a consummate food theif. Lola has recently been on a diet and lost manymanymany pounds because of her love of a good bowl of doggie chow.
We marvelled. We pinched ourselves. For this soul felt as if she should be coming home with us, she was so familiar. It was all we could do to tear ourselves away from her gentle moustachio’d face and walk away from the scene.
Because it felt for all the world as if we were leaving our dog behind.
Can you guess who is who?