How can it be that a pedigree puppy is worth rather more than I am?

I wonder what I could do with the price of a Pomeranian – or a bulldog going for £4,500.

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A call from my friend M—, from whom I have not heard for ages, and who, for some reason, has not featured in this column before. A first-class whinger, I recall, as, after the initial formalities and how’ve-you-beens, he launches into an outraged tirade against fate.

“You think you’ve got it bad?” he shouts, after my brief account of the usual miseries. M—’s situation is roughly analogous to my own: precariousness of income, of abode, of love life. But not that precarious. (My love life isn’t precarious at all. It simply doesn’t exist.) The last I’d heard, he was involved with a woman with a considerably higher income than him. I’d have no problem with this. In fact it is something of a fantasy of mine. There are men who feel threatened by the idea of a woman earning more than them; I am not one of them. This is just as well, for I would say that there are an awful lot of women who earn more than I do. The real challenge would be finding one who earned less.

“She got it into her head that she wants a dog,” he says, of the woman alluded to above. “So what?” I say. “Lots of women love dogs.”

“She wanted a pedigree dog.”

“So do lots of people.”

“So she got one.”

“What kind?”

“Does it matter? I don’t know, Labrador or something. Anyway she’d found someone selling a puppy on the internet, and mentioned that it was quite a bargain. Eighteen fifty, she said.”

“£18.50 for a pedigree Labrador puppy? That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Yes, that’s what I heard at first. She then carried on for a bit, and it dawned on me that what she meant was eighteen hundred and fifty pounds.”

“Well,” I say after a pause, “she can afford it, can’t she?”

“That’s not the point,” he says. “She should have spent it on me.”

“I don’t think that’s. . .”

“I owe the taxman about five grand, and I’m running on fumes. I mean I don’t get it. How can a dog cost that much? Dogs make dogs for nothing. There are no overheads involved. Maybe an old blanket and a bit of Kennomeat.”

“Do they still make Kennomeat? When I was growing up the only ads on the telly were for Hamlet cigars and Kennomeat.”

“I’m going to start my own dog business. I’m going to get dogs to screw each other, and when the puppies come out I’m going to present them to the taxman. I’m going to pay my tax in dogs. ‘Here you go,’ I’ll say to HMRC, ‘here are three puppies. They’re eighteen fifty on the open market, and that’s one thousand eight hundred and fifty pounds, not eighteen pounds fifty, in case you were wondering. Three puppies is slightly more than I owe you, but you can put the balance on tick so I don’t owe you so much next year.’”

I let him rant or ramble on in this fashion for a while. It is doing him some good, I suppose, as long as he doesn’t get too worked up. Useless, and possibly dangerous, to tell him that she can spend her money how she likes. I think of distracting him by talking about Claire Fox’s peerage – he hates Claire Fox even more than I do, and keeps trying to persuade people that she is not a working-class woman from Wales, but is in fact a posh young man called Clarence who used to be his fag at Winchester, and that he’s so posh the “Fox” is actually pronounced “Fanshaw”. But in the end I let M— have his say.

Later on, I look up “pedigree dog prices” on Google, and am directed to Gumtree. It turns out that £1,850 is quite a fair price for a Labrador. I see a Pomeranian going for £2,500. What, I wonder, could I do with £2,500? I could pay my tax, I suppose. Or have the weekend of a lifetime. Christ, there’s a bulldog going for £4,500. I can’t say I’ve ever seen the appeal of a pedigree dog. My daughter once showed me a photo of a pug’s skull and I can confidently say it was one of the most terrifying and repulsive things I’ve ever seen. Go on, type “pug dog skull” in the search box. I dare you.

Still, I wonder why it is that women are not only keen on having dogs, but that more and more of them seem to be getting them. Is it because so many of the women I know have had enough of men, and if they’re going to get something stupid that you have to clean up after it might as well be loyal and always happy to see her, rather than a man? Or is this simply a function of ageing? That the longer I live, the more dogs will accumulate?

When I was younger, no one had a dog, despite all those ads for Kennomeat. And now dogs are everywhere, and yet Kennomeat seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth. This is a mystery someone will have to look into.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 14 August 2020 issue of the New Statesman, This house must fall

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