The above is video footage of Simon Callow – who, up to this point, has been most widely acclaimed for his performances as Charles Dickens and his biographies of Orson Welles – reading Teddy & Stanley’s Tall Tale by Laura Quinn. You might think ‘aw, that’s nice, Callow’s gone a bit Jackanory – y’know, for the kids!’ for about six seconds, until the esteemed actor intones the words ‘this story is about a very, very good dog – just like you’, and you realise that this is either what they would have played over the speakers in Dickensian workhouses had they the technology, or is, in fact, the world’s first audiobook designed specifically with dogs in mind.
It’s the latter, in case that wasn’t already apparent, published by More Than Pet Insurance (in an attempt at viral advertising no doubt, in which case, uh, well played) in advance of Bonfire Night on Monday to soothe the jangled nerves of your pet who’s too stupid to realise that all that racket is just explosions in the sky and nothing to be frightened of, unless it turns out to be Explosions In The Sky, in which case things are about to get even louder.
The company insists that the recording is ‘scientifically designed to relax the nation’s dogs’ and uses ‘a number of proven animal psychology techniques, communicative signals, bioacoustics and years of scientific research into dog behaviour to capture a canine’s attention and help it relax when in a state of stress’. If there’s one thing insurers know about, it’s canine psychology, so you should definitely believe every word of this.
They recommend playing the audiobook or reading it yourself to your dog every night in the run-up to Bonfire Night and throughout the night itself, suggesting reading it ‘as if you are talking to a two-year-old child… never talking down to them, just adapting your normal style to sound ‘interested’, whispery, and as if you really like them, perhaps speaking with a smile’. I know it’ll be a real challenge for you to have to affect liking your dog, or to begin to entertain the notion that it could ever make you smile, but just try to get through this, for both your sakes.
Anyway, none of that matters, because what’s really important is that this cynical piece of cuddly corporatism has occasioned the greatest sentence ever spoken by man or woman, namely managing director Jane Connor’s declaration that ‘For many years people have been able to enjoy the entertainment provided by Simon Callow and now our pets finally can too.’ Finally.