The great Dr Samuel Johnson is best known for his conversation as reported by his biographer James Boswell, and for his Dictionary of the English Language, the first of any importance. His pronouncements are appreciated for their wit, learning, and directness. He saw the point when other people did not, and invariably came straight to it. He never pussyfooted. People would ask his opinion knowing that his response would be entertaining if not wise. This Christmas there have been reviews in the press, most of them complimentary, of a new biography by David Nokes. One, today, includes a quotation, new to me and I dare say new to others, which throws fresh light on his inclinations, and adds a new dimension to his humanity. According to his friend, the actor, David Garrick, when asked what he believed were the greatest pleasures in life, he replied, "Fucking and drinking."
In Calverley Ground, I pass an old woman with a stick walking slowly on the compacted snow. Ahead walks a black Labrador, a green tennis ball in its mouth. After a few yards it puts the ball down and waits for its mistress. She catches up. The dog picks up the ball and walks on. A few yards further on, the process is repeated. Eventually, at a convenient spot, the old lady picks up the ball and with some effort, achieves an underarm throw. The dog bounds after the ball and brings it back, its pent up energy released, just for a moment. But that is all. It is cold and slippery under foot and the mistress has done her duty. The dog collects the ball and they proceed slowly on their way.