Animal Crackers

Like many other households of late, we have been suffering the consequences of eating  the wrong sorts of animal ; Titus the cat has spent much of the past week vomiting in various hidden corners of the house, carefully chosen for their soft and expensive upholstery – you can’t sick up half-digested  frogs  just anywhere.

Animal life and death seem to be everywhere around us at the moment, what with birds trilling in the garden at 5 am – (lovely, thanks, but could you possibly delay it a bit?),  mating frogs providing not just an irresistible temptation to the cat, but an underfoot hazard to everybody else, the giant  ghost carp  suddenly reappearing in the pond after the winter (unfortunately rather dead) –  three thousand dead pigs  giving Shanghai drinking water an El Bulli tang, and the baby lambs in  Devon  at Easter a lone, fluffy beacon on the grey horizon.

And finally, after the longest wait since Gabriel dropped in on Mary, the grand opening of a new  PetsAtHome , two steps from us, next to Carpet Right.

In this context, ‘Pets’ becomes an interesting concept. When you think about it, most of the animals we eat are more or less pets anyway. Sheep and cows and little sniffly piglets and hens laying eggs at petting zoos – one way or another, they all inhabit the realm of cute companions. Even deer are basically Bambi. It’s not like we eat foxes or otters or ferrets. When they’re little, we cuddle them, and when they get too big to cuddle, and start borrowing the car keys without asking, we eat them. So what’s the big deal about horses?

Indeed, it would seem to me to make a lot more sense to eat all our pets, once they were past the fun stage (but not the slow loris, vid sup).

Not surprisingly, this is not the best frame of mind in which to approach a rare all-family outing to the neighbourhood’s latest emporium of wonder and delight. Dolly had already armed herself with a VIPets card and a long, long shopping list, but even she was overwhelmed by the lengths to which the perverse imagination, incentivised by profit and riddled with  anthropomorphism , can reach. Hamster doughnuts and Harry Hamster’s Muesli, doggy hot cross buns and doggie breath freshener to follow up. Rabbit cottages. Thatched woodland snugglies for birds. Diamond-studded waistcoats for diva chihuahuas. And then there’s the irresistible lure of the bad pun: Wheelie Salties, Applaws cat milk, Jumbones.

Like Barbie World, with an underlying whiff of rodent pee.  A place for people desperate to make their pets as much as possible like the children or friends or families who never were. Or once were, but then stopped visiting – or who just, annoyingly, refuse to offer up the total dependency and lavish affection of their Furry Friends. After all, how many children will come and give you a hug whenever you need one, but submit meekly to being  dumped in a basket  for most of the day? Ah, well…

I don’t know what other couples talk about in bed, but that night, once the reassuringly non-compliant teenagers were safely tucked in, our conversation naturally turned to the absolute vs relative nature of morality; and, in the former case, how to judge a society that rewards a place selling lactose-free milk in cute individual bottles so we can perpetuate the  fairy tale  that cats drink it, and yet allows several million of its  own children  to grow up hungry, cold and starved of love and attention?

I try not to mention my day job at home, as it’s not always the cheeriest of subjects, but it has been occurring to me throughout Horsegate that many of my asylum seeker clients, asked to subsist on  36 pounds of Asda credit a week , with no actual cash to get to a cheaper supermarket let alone a proper market for fresh food, would probably have been very happy to eat a  horse lasagne , burger or meat ball, had it been offered to them. (Indeed, when I raised this with them, it provoked a lively conversation about which bit of a crocodile you’d eat for pleasure, and which bit only if you’d been starving for a week or so – along with rats, birds and those delicious mating frogs).

Mr Fixit, not having been brought up to subject every decision, large or small, to the sort of moral interrogation that kept the  Spanish Inquisition  in business for centuries, tends to take a more laissez-payer attitude to these matters. ‘It’s just a lifestyle choice, isn’t it?’

‘No it’s not, it’s WRONG! It’s a symptom of a sick society.’

‘That’s just your view, you can say you think it’s wrong, but you can’t say it’s wrong, per se.’

‘Oh yes, I can.’

He’s not getting anywhere. He tries changing tack. ‘Wrong is if I say the earth is flat. That’s wrong. Or if the  Victoria Line  goes to Camden Town. It’s got nothing to do with Pets at Home’.

He really will do anything to win an argument, having been to the School of Hard Knocks, where he learned how to sell freezers to Eskimos and throw in a bargain 12-pack of horse burgers. But I spent four years being taught how to argue, at a noble institute of higher learning. I have a first class degree in Advanced Arguology. ‘There are two meanings of wrong, okay? There’s wrong, mistaken, and there’s wrong, raping six month old babies. ‘

‘Well, everybody would agree with that, wouldn’t they? Now you’re just being silly.’

‘So you think it’s okay for a society to look after its guinea pigs better than it looks after people who’ve fled for their lives across half a world, and lost everything on the way?’

‘Like I said, it’s a choice. Mind you, the signage is awful. And they clearly don’t understand  colour  at all. But…’

‘Just like me wanting that giant spoon on the wall next to the mirror is a choice.’

Sometimes you can lose the war by winning the battle. But the scent of victory is irresistible. ‘You told me, not a month ago, that you knew about aesthetics, and in the world of aesthetics,  giant spoons  are not a Lifestyle Choice, but pure evil, right?’

He was either pretending to be asleep, or wishing he were, or both.

‘So. You have your absolute aesthetics, and I’ll have my absolute morality. I’ll let Dolly shop at that sink of  depravity , if you let me have the giant spoon.’

And, thinking about it, that’s pretty much the way we keep the peace.