Ladies and gentlemen, on this first day of the new month (check out the new poem on my Favourite Things page), I present to you the inimitable, the legendary, the most-named, the wisest of all bears: the greatest and first Mr Newman Noggs, the original and most senior of the Dickens Dogs. This picture they tell me was taken when he was about two – very much in his young prime. I shall write more about him as my work proceeds as his shadow is long and his mantle all-embracing; oh to be such a presence in folk’s lives! The possibility of having a dog called Newman emerged a long long way from here, on another continent, while reading Nicholas Nickleby, in which appears a gentleman with that wonderfully alliterative name. Suddenly all was clear: if anything suited a big bouncy golden, looking up from the water bowl with the stream still flowing out the side of his mouth, it was Newman Noggs.
Dickens’s character, whose integrity has been compromised, is exploited by the villainous Ralph Nickleby, for whom he’s obliged to work. Crusty but benign, an ornery fellow (who on one occasion actually says he wishes he were a parrot), Newman Noggs restores his own dignity when he helps Nicholas unmask his wicked uncle. He’s an iconoclast in every way, and so was Noggsy. It took a while before the idea of Newman became a reality but eventually he came along and started a tradition that lives on today, naming each puppy after a different character from a Dickens novel. When Newman was four he was joined by Uncle Willie, named after Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield, and then came Tommy Traddles from the same novel. For now, I leave you to look up these fellows for yourselves and to ponder on how I, Mr Pip, resemble the hero of Great Expectations. Today we considered the vague possibility of bringing another dog into the family, a dog whose owner is now ill and cannot look after him. He’s adorable: friendly, sweet-natured, funny and sociable – if a bit fat. But currently he has an archetypal doggy name, the sort you simply don’t get much these days. How could we change it at this stage in his life? Should we? It is a lovely kind of brain teaser. Which Dickens Dog could he be?