• The Importance of Small Things

    I once had a small dog.

    I called him Stanley Philpot.

    I have to say from the first moment I saw his funny face I was completely entranced. I’d never had a small dog before and this little man tested me almost beyond my limits. Is that a thing with small dogs? Whereas Moses and Betty had a straightforward intelligence, Stan had his own bright ideas about everything.

    Roughly the shape of a dachshund but with untidy ringlets, an undershot jaw and wayward teeth. Those shiny black curls fell luxuriously from his head and ears but fell short along his back to be replaced with a flat silvergrey fluff. Straggly waves covered his short fat legs. On our walks, passersby would look around him and compliment my very handsome big dogs. Just as at a family wedding our eyes flick past the adult bridesmaids and rest instead on the 5 yr old flower girl in her blush pink fairy dress with flower crown. But I absolutely adored my little Stan. I drew him obsessively. Almost as if drawing him would give me a way inside that mischievous brain of his. I designed a range of cards crowning him The World Famous Stanley Philpot. Still available I think from Art Press Cards, but I can’t quite bear to look. His antics were legendary.

    I remember finding my precious vintage Cornishware bowl (plus antique silver sugar tongs) behind his bed one afternoon. I had been looking for them all week. He had managed to find his way up onto the dining table and carried the bowl to his bed before demolishing the fancy brown sugar cubes within. And all without breaking a thing. My, how I’d love to know how he pulled off that stunt.

    He was such a good dog for problem solving. He had a keen sense of smell, a voracious appetite and an enviable dedication to his tasks. He would chew through coat pockets and metal treats tins, driven wild by the possibility of the scantest of crumbs. If at all accessible he’d eat whole bags of dry kibble in one sitting. He’d snaffle the budgie’s millet, clear out the fish food, chomp away at fat balls left for the birds in the park … He could eat a whole box of Audrey’s chocolates and a packet of nuts and raisins with no ill effect. He once ate an entire hamper of my sister’s (delicious and precious) homemade Christmas goods overnight - including the wrappings - and was only slightly ill. A whole Dundee cake barely touched the sides.

    As he grew older, not surprisingly, he lost some teeth, and his whiskers turned a fetching grey to match his silvery back perfectly. His cloudy eyes blinked in heartfelt devotion directed towards anyone with a packet of crisps or a spare sandwich. He’d go missing for hours and I’d find him waiting patiently under picnic tables or high chairs. And, yes, I wormed him regularly.

    I must say he was a little rascal for most of his 15 years. Every time I walked through a door I’d hold my breath trying to guess what fresh mischief he’d found. And perhaps because of that I miss him still. Sometimes in the middle of the night I reach out for him and he’s not there. The powerful comfort of his cuddles is irreplaceable.

    Over those last months I drew him a lot. His little torpedo shaped body and dusty curls. He grew fatter and more boney at the same time. He looked at me a lot and I guessed at what he was wanting to say. I had a feeling that I never wanted to stop drawing him because then I would have to let him go. Which of course I did, as we all must. And now there’s a part of me who can’t really remember having such a naughty pup as Stanley Philpot. He came and he left. Like coming back from a holiday and you can’t quite believe that you actually went.

    Often to comfort myself when my dogs grow old, I do Fantasy Dog Buying. It’s a bit like walking past a house you will never own but at the same time you can just imagine where your sofa would go. For my fantasy dog I almost always go for a Harlequin Great Dane called Big. And Tiny Tim a little blonde chihuahua. Or let’s face it - any dog I see who gives me a second glance. Which is why I am so looking forward to drawing your dogs at Panter and Hall next week. I was delighted to include Club Members’ Pets in my paintings for the show and now I’d like to invite three of you (with or without your 4 leggers) to come along.

    It’s an exclusive event with a very limited guest list. There’ll be a live charity auction for Wild at Heart Foundation, pet sketches for donations to the charity, a short film being made, a live podcast and a photographer to capture the event. You’ll be at the biggest show of my career, with sparkly wine and treats for the pups… I’d love you to join us!! You’ll be rubbing shoulders with such starry guests as my mum, Nan Mustard, as well as my sister Louise and brother Tim who will be running the auction. The gallery list is FULL but I have room on my personal guest list for 3 Club Members. Wish it could be more but to leave room for all the people who have already bought a picture and would like to bring their dog, it’s Fire Regs I’m afraid. It’s on 9th November at Panter and Hall, 11-12 Pall Mall, Big London and the first 3 to contact me with their club numbers will join me as my guests.

    If you are unable to make the Private View, you can visit the show between 8th and 18th November (see www.panterandhall.com for opening times). I’ll also be uploading the short film when it’s made so you can experience the show from your sofa.

    Well if you’ve got to the end of all that lot you deserve an extra biscuit!

    I wish you all the love from my cosy sofa in Brighton where I’m supping Lemsips and catching up on all the emails. The weather is crazy wet and windy outside but I’m just about to bundle up and head out into it. Betty doesn’t mind the weather. Not like Stan. I used to have to carry him underneath my cape. And he wasn’t light. Today I’ll be thinking of my Curly Top as I wonder at the foaming sea with watery eyes.

    Big love,

    Sam Toft