Thomas Hardy lived outside Dorchester in a house called Max Gate. He often entertained famous guests to lunch, many of whom were surprised to see the great author share his meal with his pets. Most notable of his animals was his terrier Wessex who would climb on the lunch table and snatch food from visitors. He was also famously vicious and bit many of the most celebrated people of the age. Wessex is buried in the garden of the house, which is where I caught up with him just a couple of weeks ago.
Wessex: Morning guvnor. Where to? Just so long as it’s not south of the river.
CG: I beg your pardon?
Wessex: Sorry, sorry. Later incarnation of me messing with the psychic ectoplasmic thingamybob. Yeah, after I died, I was reborn as a London cabbie. Not many people know that.
Wessex: Yeah. If was you I wouldn’t go round the other side of the garden. All dug up innit. Go the long way around from the other side. Might seem like it’s longer but it’ll take the same time. Honest.
CG: Oh OK. I was hoping to ask you about some of the people that came to Max Gate.
Wessex: Oh, yeah, well, I seen them all haven’t I? You watch the football last night? Oh deary deary me.
CG: Uh no, missed it. Um, the famous people?
Wessex: Oh yeah. Well, that A E Housman, I bit him a couple of times.
CG: You bit him?
Wessex: Oh absolutely mate. I’ve bitten all the greats I have. Yeah, Housman, Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, er… Robert Louis Stevenson, Marie Stopes, George Bernard Shaw…
CG: You bit George Bernard Shaw?
Wessex: Oh yeah. Irish tosser, pardon my french. I was on the table as I always was and there was this beardy git yacking on and on, and all I wanted was a sausage…
CG: But Shaw was a vegetarian. He wouldn’t have had a sausage.
Wessex: Well, yeah, I know that NOW but at the time I thought he was just being a stingy bastard didn’t I? So I bit him. On the hand as I recall. That shut him up. Yeah. Who else? Gustav Holst. Sounded a bit dodgy to me. German. Well he didn’t sound German but his name was German and that was good enough for me. Bloody Germans, coming over here, stealing all our sausages…
CG: Who else did you bite?
Wessex: Mrs Patrick Campbell. She was lovely. Tasted of violets. Oh and Virginia Wolf. Another one that went on and on and on. Scrawny cow though. My teeth went straight through to the bone. That James Barrie, he was tasty. Robert Graves too. Ah, now, wait though. I’ll tell you who I never bit and that was that T E Lawrence. You know, the one from Arabia? Yeah there was something about him. He was always willing to give me his sausage. A real gent. So I didn’t bite him. Didn’t say much though. Much shorter than he looked in pictures. Yeah whoever caused that accident wot killed him should be strung up if you ask me. Only language they understand. And I’ll tell you something else for free: what happened to national service? Eh? That’s wot I want to know.
CG: Well this has been fascinating, but I must go.
Wessex: Right that’ll be seventeen quid. Mind if I drop you here? Can’t get any closer.
Wessex: Shit, sorry. Bloody ectoplasmic whotsitsname.
CG: Thanks very much.
Wessex: Cheers mate. Mind how you go.