Sergio Aguero visited the shop last week and lay under the counter chewing a pig’s ear. We managed to keep it out of the papers.
Before you assume that his uncertain future at Manchester City had unhinged the legendary Argentine soccer star, perhaps it’s worth mentioning that this Aguero was a ginger-coloured mongrel with one blue eye and one brown one, and who, as far as we know, has never played in the Premiership.
We had dogs at home when I was a lad but as far as I remember, they lived outside in kennels and barked at Jehovah’s Witnesses. But dogs, like everything else, have gone soft since then, and now they regard human comforts, and above all, human company, as their right.
So when my old, and usually quite wise, assistant Norman was asked by his neighbour whether he would look after Aguero while they took the mother-in-law on a week’s tank driving course on Salisbury Plain, he asked if he could bring the dog to work “just now and then”.
“He’ll be no trouble,” Norman said as we were unpacking some Chinese tennis balls I had bought on the internet (no one thought to mention they were blue and red and stuffed with what felt like bread-pudding). “He just likes company. We can put him under the counter and no one will know he’s there.” As the phrase goes, “Like a fool, I believed him.”
In fact, hardly was Aguero installed on his dog duvet under the cricket-equipment counter with his water dish and array of canine snacks than he wanted to go out. Once out, he wanted to come in, pressing his nose hard against the glass door until it resembled a model of Donald Trump made from prunes.
Cats may be relaxing companions when asleep, but it was soon obvious that dogs aren’t. Moans, sighs and sinister gnawing sounds rose from beneath the counter, resulting in quizzical looks from several customers.
“He’s asthmatic,” I said nodding at Norman who was selling a skateboard to someone’s granny. “Apparently the pollen count’s all over the place today.”
On another occasion, unable to resist investigating a long silence, I wished I hadn’t. Aguero had been sick on a consignment of England women’s cricket team sweatshirts.
Moving his bed to the corner of the shop, shielded from customers by a display of hockey-sticks, meant I could see what he was up to, but also meant that he could see me. Never since I was taken home to meet her parents by my first girlfriend, had I been stared at so hard and for so long.
Giving full attention to customers was impossible as black shiny eyes bored into my subconscious, How can you say anything sensible about asymmetrical loop football boot lacing when you’re being stared at from behind a pile of rubber bones?
That day, business terminated abruptly at 4pm when the till computer screen went blank. During a period when he appeared to be peacefully asleep, Aguero had chewed through a coaxial cable.
The next day, obviously now having a taste for retailing equipment, he put the phone answering machine out of action and ate a roll of parcel tape, followed by selection of golf accessories.
I had nothing personal against Aguero, you understand. At least not until I found he had a phone phobia. A ringing phone sent this ancient creature, which looked as though he was constructed from wire coathangers and old teddy bears, into the canine equivalent of Mike Tyson.
With one bound, he tore the phone from my hand and attacked it with snorts and growls. I could hear the soccer equipment wholesaler on the other end asking anxiously whether I wanted him to call a doctor.
Worse was to happen when a man who intended to place a large order for equipment for a sports club, sat in the chair the dog had decided was now his. Aguero climbed laboriously onto the client’s lap and sat there with an expression I had not seen before and didn’t like a bit.
The man was very nice about what happened next, but we haven’t heard from him since. He drove away wearing a pair of track-suit bottoms from the bargain drawer and smelling of disinfectant.
The last day before his owners returned, Aguero celebrated by destroying three memory-sticks containing five years of accounts, a Parker fountain-pen given to me by my mother when I passed the 11-plus, and a shock-absorbing knee support.
But there’s usually a positive side to everything. Norman apparently feels so bad about having brought Aguero into our lives that he’s volunteered to work next Saturday for nothing.
I’m just trying to work out what the catch is. Perhaps he’s been asked to look after a hippopotamus.