If you are depressed, single, overweight, or having trouble waking up in the morning, my advice is get a dog. A small beast is more effective than an alarm clock for getting you out of bed before the church bells; better than a personal trainer for clocking up the exercise; and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it knocked Prozac into a hat for boosting seratonin levels. A dog is also a very good way to meet people.
With Biff at my side I have attracted more attention in the past three weeks - and met more people - than I did in a whole decade of living in London. And although we are both missing The Man and France, I can't deny that I'm enjoying the reflected glory as my little black dog [LBD] cuts a swathe through the local parks. Even small children come over to tell me that my dog is cute.
In warm weather the LBD is particularly shameless, targetting people on picnic blankets and trotting over to hustle for attention or food. (By some strange osmosis, he invariably hits on the most attractive people in the park.)
'BIFF COME HERE NOW!' I cry, before rushing over with an apologetic smile. By this time, Biff has usually ingratiated himself to the extent he is lying on his back, paws in the air, black eyes rolling beguilingly, having his belly stroked.
'Sorry about that!' I say. 'I'm afraid he's quite shameless.'
In this way we have met some very lovely people, including the Air Canada girls. Biff waltzed over to their picnic blanket one sunny afternoon- they had flown into town earlier that day - and immediately scarfed a tub of taramasalata. The Air Canada stewardesses couldn't have been more charming, insisting that we join them on their picnic blanket for a glass of wine.
Other highlights of London park life include Chloe the giant poodle and Lucy her charming management consultant-turned-psychologist owner, whom, it transpired, also live mostly in France.
You can, if you want to, build an entire social life around your dog. In the mornings the local dog owners meet for coffee at the cafe at Holland Park. (Personally, I haven't dared go there since the LBD slipped into the enclosure and emerged with an entire croissant, which looked suspiciously like it had come from someone's plate.) Then, early evening, we have a regular date in Kensington Gardens, since Biff's new friends Honey and Hugo (both rescue dogs) and their owners meet at the horse statue at the same appointed hour each day. If I didn't have to work to keep me and the LBD in organic M&S food, I could fritter away entire days in London's parks.