The secret of winning friends A furry bundle of mischief called Freddie who managed to win over the hardest of hearts
Yorkshire terrier Freddie with adoring owner Joanne Hegarty
This week I have been greeted with smiles wherever I go – and stopped twice in the street and asked for my photograph.
Shop assistants have been falling over themselves to serve me and total strangers – including, bizarrely, a man with a parrot on his shoulder – have been rushing up to start conversations and confide intimate details about their lives.
Sadly, I haven’t become famous overnight – or won the lottery.
But I have finally unlocked the secret of something that’s been troubling me . . . how to persuade my fellow citizens to take their eyes off the pavement, detach themselves from their mobile phones and be friendly.
I moved to London from Dublin a year ago and, although I love the hustle and bustle of this wonderful city, getting used to the way people treat each other – ranging from complete indifference to downright rudeness and hostility – hasn’t been easy.
In Ireland, just like in plenty of areas of Britain outside the big cities, many of the people you pass on the street will routinely acknowledge your presence with a hello or friendly glance. On buses, in shops or Post Office queues, they happily strike up a conversation.
Sometimes it can be exhausting. But mostly such casual friendliness makes the world a cheerier place and I found losing that human contact unsettling.
At times, I felt as if I’d become invisible as people charged past me or, frequently, barged into me.
The starkest contrast between my old life and my new one came when I had to persuade my mother, in London on a visit, that knocking on the door of a neighbouring house simply because it had the same name as the small town she comes from in County Cork was not the brilliant idea she thought it was.
She was certain she’d be invited in
for tea. I suffered mild heart palpitations and imagined its occupants
frozen stiff with bewilderment on the doorstep before they decided she
was mad and called the police.
But now everything’s changed in my world – thanks to a tiny bundle of fur and mischief called Freddie.
– from rich old ladies in pearls to too-cool-for-school coffee baristas
– has finally opened up its tightly-folded arms and embraced me . . .
or rather him.
Tiny Freddie travels with Joanne around London and as a result she has got to know the local shopowners and other people
Freddie is a ten-week-old miniature Yorkshire terrier and just as cute as a button with a teddy-bear face, bright brown eyes, a pink sticking-out tongue and the tiniest waggly tail.
On his first outing I took him to buy fish from my local fishmonger, a stout no-nonsense sort of chap.
‘What have you got there’ he asked curiously when he heard an impatient while from my little pup, who was on the ground and out of his view. I plucked Freddie up and held him over the counter for inspection.
This macho-looking man fell apart like a defrosted fishfinger and exclaimed in a high, excited voice: ‘Isn’t he beautiful’
Then he asked if he could take a picture of Freddie on his iPhone to show his wife – before proudly bringing out a snap of his own family dog, a lovely black poodle. A few days later, I was crossing the road near his shop when his wife ran out, introduced herself and asked Freddie for a cuddle. In 12 months of visiting that store, I’d never got further than ‘two fillets of salmon, please’.
In fact, in the two weeks since I brought Freddie home, I have discovered that the woman in the local Italian coffee shop – who’s never once said more than ‘Yes’ to me – has two dogs, a doberman and a bulldog, and has just completed a college course.
Freddie is a huge hit and helps Joanne meet new people
The man who washes our neighbour’s window has been suffering awful back pain lately, while the man who stands on the Kings Road in Chelsea with a parrot on his shoulder on Saturday afternoons calls his bird Max, likes to dress up as a pirate for children’s parties and has just got divorced after 26 years of marriage.
When I’m out with Freddie, people love to give advice. One old dear rushed up and told me: ‘Oh it’s very cold out here for that little love, he’ll get a cold in his kidneys. You should buy him a coat. He needs a little coat.’
My puppy has proved a hit in the most unexpected places.
The White Company is one of my favourite stores. It’s so inviting, always smells divine and everything it sells is – surprise, surprise – gorgeously, immaculately white.
The last place, then, you’d imagine would welcome an overexcited puppy – particularly since he has already been turned away by John Lewis.
But, no, as I browsed around The White Company store I was approached by no less than five assistants wanting to pat Freddie.
‘Oh my God, he has made my day!’ squealed one of the young men. His female colleague even explained that the shop had special ‘doggy smells’ built into the floor to make visiting dogs feel happier.
As everyone who’s been to London knows, the most unfriendly place of all is the Tube where only mad men, drunks and buskers ever acknowledge the presence of any other human being.
As everyone who’s been to London knows,
the most unfriendly place of all is the Tube where only mad men, drunks
and buskers ever acknowledge the presence of any other human being
But I decided to immerse Freddie in big-city life by taking him on a trip so short that the fact that I’m right in the middle of the tricky task of toilet-training him shouldn’t have been a threat to either his dignity – or mine.
At first, all was fine and he sat there being cooed over and having his chin rubbed by young and old admirers alike. But then he suddenly squatted on the carriage floor near my leg in a way that made me shriek in horror at what was surely to come.
‘I’m really sorry,’ I muttered to a very well-dressed lady sitting across from me. ‘But I think he needs to go. Oh God.’
Crimson-faced, I expected a dirty look or even a telling off – and who could blame her – but what happened next was truly shocking.
She smiled sweetly in Freddie’s direction and said: ‘Well, I’m sure it will only be a small one.’
Thankfully, we made it out of the Tube before anything terrible happened. But it seems my four-legged friend really can melt any heart.
While for me, despite the dank winter skies, the world has never seemed a brighter or friendlier place.
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