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“Gandalf, please”: as a vet, here’s what I’ve learned from how people name their pets

“Would Satan like to come through now, please?”

“Gandalf, please.” As I usher my next patient into my consulting room I’ve already made certain assumptions. This is a male cat around 15 years old, the person responsible for naming him now has a flat of their own, and the couple who have brought him in are rattling about in a child-free four bedroom house.

As a vet, sure, I make assumptions about my patients based on their name. Starting out at a city clinic in a rough area, I’d peer into the waiting room to see a collection of Staffies and pitbulls staring back at me. “Would Satan like to come through now, please?”

Of course, making assumptions is wrong, but sometimes they’re genuinely useful. These days the Frodos and Pippins are more likely than the Dumbledores and Hagrids to need a geriatric blood profile or dental intervention. And anyone with a four-year-old child will understand that Chase, Rubble and Skye are probably booked in for neutering. (Only the senior partners remember treating a Garfield or Cagney and Lacey.)

Here’s an interesting project for a final year vet student – can we measure the success of a media franchise by analysing patient names collated across UK vet practices? It’s much harder to guess the age of Yoda, Luke and Leia, Scooby and Scrappy.

Which brings us on to duos. My advice? Don’t risk it. Name a pair of littermates Gin and Tonic, Gilbert and Sullivan, Ben and Jerry and you’re setting yourself up for a tragedy. Once Hardy went missing, no one got the reference when Laurel turned up for his vaccines each year.

I went through a phase of trying to impress by researching the names on my appointments list in advance. When I saw Jocasta booked in, I used my coffee break to buff up on my classical mythology. Here’s an owner who’ll want a diagnosis in Latin.

This kind of prepping backfired horribly once. “Clayson, please. A reference to the World War One pilot?” His owner looked at me blankly. “The Royal Flying Corp?” “Erm, in a bit of a hurry mate – he needs his jab?”

I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of nominative determinism – the plumber for our clinic is called Mr Funnell – and I think this applies to our pets, too. If you choose to name your pet Scratchy you only have yourself to blame when the allergic dermatitis sets in and, yes, Sniffles is sure to develop a chronic rhinitis. Beware the ironic determinism too. If I see Princess or Fluffy on my list I’m going to have a muzzle to hand. 

Bradley Curtis is a vet based in Kent

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Commons Confidential: Tories turn on “Lord Snooty”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

With the Good Friday Agreement’s 20th anniversary rapidly approaching, Jeremy Corbyn’s office is scrambling to devise a celebration that doesn’t include Tony Blair. Peace in Northern Ireland is a sparkling jewel in the former prime minister’s crown, perhaps the most precious legacy of the Blair era. But peace in Labour is more elusive. Comrade Corbyn’s plot to airbrush the previous party leader out of the picture is personal. Refusing to share a Brexit referendum platform with Blair and wishing to put him in the dock over Iraq were political. Northern Ireland is more intimate: Corbyn was pilloried for IRA talks and Blair threatened to withdraw the whip after the Islington North MP met Gerry Adams before the 1997 election. The Labour plan, by the way, is to keep the celebrations real – focusing on humble folk, not grandees such as Blair.

Beleaguered Tory Europeans call Brextremist backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – the hard-line European Research Group’s even harder line no-dealer – “Lord Snooty” behind his back. The Edwardian poshie, who orchestrates Theresa May’s taxpayer-funded Militant Tendency (members of the Brexit party within a party are able to claim “research” fees on expenses), is beginning to grate. My irritated snout moaned that the Beano was more fun and twice as informative as the Tories’ own Lord Snooty.

Labour’s Brexit fissures are getting bigger but Remainers are also far from united. I’m told that Andy Slaughter MP is yet to forgive Chuka Umunna for an “ill-timed” pro-EU amendment to last June’s Queen’s Speech, which led to Slaughter’s sacking from the front bench for voting to stay in the single market. The word is that a looming customs union showdown could trigger more Labexits unless Jezza embraces tariff-free trade.

Cold war warriors encouraging a dodgy Czech spy to smear Comrade Corbyn couldn’t be further from the truth about his foreign adventures. In Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Corbyn recalled spending a night in Burundi pumping up footballs. The club offered to donate shirts for an aid trip but he asked for the balls to be shared by entire African villages. He was War on Want, not Kim Philby.

Screaming patriot Andrew Rosindell, the chairman of an obscure flags and heraldry committee, is to host a lecture in parliament on the Union Jack. I once witnessed the Romford Tory MP dress Buster, his bull terrier, in a flag waistcoat to greet Maggie Thatcher. She walked past without noticing.

A Tory MP mused that Iain Duncan Smith was nearly nicknamed “Smithy”, not “IDS”, for his 2001 leadership campaign. Smithy would still have proved a lousy commander.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia