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"Nurture or Nature? A question that is not easy to determine an answer to. How about preferring Cats or Dogs?" - Allen Ansell

I was always getting accused of being too serious. To begin with it was an accusation that my mother threw in my direction now and again, and then, later, as I grew older, it was one that I occasionally heard from my peers too. I think I’ve grown out of it… somewhat.    But I also think a serious nature is something that you are born with. It’s built in, and you can’t help yourself analysing things. Take the question of pet preferences: Cats or dogs?

I prefer cats.

When you make a statement like that, firm, confident, and straight forward, you obviously have to have thought about it in some detail, don’t you? And I have.

His name was Prince. A very fine fellow, was Prince. Loyal. Liked a fussing. Was playful, and to a small boy like me, was also a very great friend. His coat was a combination of black, brown, ginger and white; can you call that tortoiseshell? I think you can, but people don’t seem to use that word when they’re talking about dogs. And prince was a canine, some kind of collie my dad said, and in my eyes totally deserving of his regal name.

We had a really large garden at the back of my dad’s off-license in Hertfordshire. Actually, calling it a garden is very misleading, it would be better if you think of it as a field. Prince and I would romp around in the long grass for hours on end at weekends. In fact whenever school was over we were inseparable.
He arrived into my life without notice. One day I was an only child, fresh home from boarding school, in a new home, and about to go to a new State school. The next I had a playmate… a brother of sorts: Prince. Prince arrived as a ready-made friend; already past the puppy stage (in looks), and an instant companion for little old me. I’m quite certain that he arrived for that very purpose in my parents eyes.

However, in reality he arrived at the beginning of a very inopportune time:    My mother had become a secret addict. And having told you that my father owned an off-license, please don’t get the wrong idea that she was addicted to alcohol. No, I believe that she was addicted to a particular slimming drug – that shall be nameless. And my father, God bless him, never had a clue about it. (As far as I know.)    It was also the time when the relationship with my mother took a turn for the worse. A turn from which it was destined to never recover.

I imagine that my being sent along the road to the chemist with a small note, and the instruction to never tell my dad, might very well have been the start of it.    Even in the mind of an innocent child, someone trying to drive a wedge of secrecy between a child and it’s parents would be a little traumatic, but when it is one of the parents doing it, it must even be more so.    That said, there was also the fact that her personality was on the change, and I found myself more and more the target for her anger, and an attempt at dominance of her personality over mine. More notes, more purchases with the threats to not tell dad, some of them for things that little boys just shouldn’t know about, like sanitary towels that I would carry home in the chemist’s brown paper bag – and of course take a sneak inside to see what all the secrecy was about.

In fairness to her, she should at least be applauded for having somehow managed to give up taking the pills… Or were they perhaps withdrawn from sale ‘over the counter’ and she was forced to go ‘cold turkey’? … Either way, she must have stopped taking them at some stage, but by the time that happened it was too late.

At that age, I did not have the experience of life to have built up an understanding of the circumstances of my mother and my relationship. As I grew older, I began to think that in some strange way she wanted to live her life through me; and that was probably why she might have started to take a dislike to Prince. Perhaps she was jealous that I had a loving relationship with him and a fiery one with her? Whatever the reason, just as quickly as Prince had arrived, so he disappeared. One morning I got out of bed, and Prince was not around. My parents told me that he must have run away. As you can imagine, I was desolate.

Then, one day while I was walking back from the chemist shop, I saw him on the opposite side of the busy road.    You can’t be blamed for wondering how I would know that the dog on the lead over the other side of the wide road was Prince, but I did know, and when I called out to him, he turned and tried to get away from the man who was leading him. It was Prince all right.

Under pain of death to never even put a toe over the kerbstones of that road, I ran the remaining distance home and garbled the story to my mother. ‘You must be mistaken… It can’t be Prince. It must have been a dog just like him…’ and then, maybe a quarter hour or so later, after my continued pleading that I had seen a strange man with my dog, she accompanied out to the road, where, of course, by then, there was no sign of man nor beast.

In the years that followed, I never had another dog. Nor a cat. It wasn’t until I left home maybe fourteen years later that I did. And without hesitation I chose a cat. I have often wondered why?

Do you think that it was something psychological because of my experience with Prince, or was it that, just like you are born with a serious nature you are also born either a cat or dog lover? If I had been able to choose a pet all those years ago in Cheshunt, I think I would have chosen a cat.    But I shall never forget Prince.

© Allen Ansell 2023