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27th Apr 2017

Exploring what the hell Tim Farron meant when he said “Smell my spaniel”

The Lib Dem leader made the odd exclamation on the campaign trail, but what does it even mean?

Rich Cooper

Every election has a catchphrase, and Tim Farron may have just coined it.

While out on the campaign trail in Cambridge, a short snippet of video caught the Liberal Democrats leader asking someone to “smell my spaniel” – an odd request, you’ll agree.

Here, see/listen for yourself.

Er, yes. Well then.

The context in which Farron asked someone to smell his spaniel is unclear, so let’s speculate wildly about what the hell he was on about.

Tim Farron literally wants someone to smell his spaniel.

Tim Farron is a spaniel owner, a Springer by the name of Jasper.

Politicians have a terrible reputation for posturing as things they are not – David Cameron as a man of the people, Jeremy Corbyn as a competent leader, Nick Clegg as a vertebrate – but a spaniel owner Tim Farron most definitely is.

This invites the question as to why Tim Farron wants someone to smell his spaniel.

Perhaps Tim Farron’s spaniel bears the most heavenly scent: soft notes of cinnamon and sweet spice; an earthy musk, reminiscent of hillwalking and peat; floral decadence, Jasper bathing in rose, lavender and jasmine each night before rolling in white satin sheets, strewn with bouquets of freesia and ylang-ylang.

Tim Farron has had a bit of a rough time in the press lately, dodging questions on whether he thinks gay sex is a sin or not, so maybe his fragrant furry friend could help redeem his public image. “Never mind all that,” Tim Farron blusters. “You’d think differently if you smell my spaniel.”

“Maybe he does think gay sex is a sin,” voters would later say. “Maybe he doesn’t, all I know is no one with a dog that smells that good could be a bad person.”

Or perhaps Tim Farron’s spaniel smells fucking awful. So bad, worse than you can even imagine. Like dog shit mixed with fox shit mixed with people shit mixed with gone-off milk and pig shit and farts, smeared over hessian sack full of rotten pickled herring, doused in diesel and set alight.

Maybe Tim Farron was talking to someone who also has a dog that fucking stinks, attempting to relate to them. “You’ve got a smelly dog too?” Tim Farron enquires. “Me too, you should smell my spaniel.” And lo, a man of the people is born.

The only problem is, as far as we can tell from the video, Tim Farron’s dog was not with Tim Farron, so quite how people were supposed to smell Tim Farron’s spaniel remains a mystery.

Tim Farron was using an exclamation known only to Tim Farron.

There’s an entire lexicon of strange exclamations used to express surprise: “Slap my thigh and call me Susan!”, “Sweet baby Jesus!”, “Heavens to Betsy!”, “Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”

The difference between these phrases and the phrase “smell my spaniel” is that people have actually heard of these phrases. Until today, the words “smell my spaniel” had never been uttered by another human being.

Nevertheless, it’s possible that Tim Farron was using a phrase of his own concoction to exhibit shock at any number of possible scenarios:

“Smell my spaniel, this weather’s a bit peaky, isn’t it?”

“The train’s late again? Smell my spaniel… this country, I tell you.”

“Smell my spaniel, if it isn’t Michael Heseltine!”

“Look… no, wait… listen… smell my spaniel, I can hardly get a word in edgeways with you.”

“Smell my spaniel, have you seen the time? We’ll miss Songs of Praise!”

“Smell. My. Spaniel. You son of a bitch, why I oughta…”

“What, in the public toilets? Two of them? Smell my spaniel, have they even read the Bible?”

Tim Farron is the awkward guy who panics under pressure and says something stupid because you’ve got to say something, Tim, for heaven’s sake, they’re looking at you!

Not everyone is blessed with the gift of the gab.

Some of us are more adept at putting our feet in our mouths than summoning coherent strings of words from them. Tim Farron is a politician, and politicians are expected to be good at this sort of thing, but perhaps Tim Farron is not good at this sort of thing.

It’s one thing to think a rational thought, it’s another to express it.

There’s a crucial link between the speaker’s brain and the listener’s ear and that’s the mouth, and the mouth can be a feckless goon at times, either garbling the intended message, having given it a cursory glance, or simply going rogue and splurging some free-form waffle.

“Well, I’m really concerned about the quality of education under the Tories,” a local might have told Tim Farron, listening patiently, a nervous eye twitching, a bead of sweat dangling precariously from his furrowed brow.

“The number of available school places has dropped, class sizes are getting bigger, and teachers today – they’re overworked and understaffed. But the Lib Dem’s record on education is so appalling – what you and the Tories did to this generation of students was unacceptable – I just don’t really see how we can trust you with another crack at the whip.”

“Smell my spaniel.”

And with that, Tim Farrow was off. He’d nothing more to say; nothing to say at all, in fact. As he walked away, the cogs in his brain whirred furiously: “Smell my spaniel? God, why did I say that? You could have said literally anything else. Literally anything. Idiot, you idiot!”

Later that night, as he laid his head on his pillow, on the brink of nodding off, the memory rushes back: “Smell my spaniel.” And the nightmare begins anew. Why does he do this to himself? Why, Lord, why?

Tim Farron was attempting to engage in some Alan Partridge-based banter but fluffed it.

“Smell my spaniel, you mother!”

The man’s face spoke volumes.

He was wearing a Beatles t-shirt, which prompted Tim Farron to ask what his favourite album was.

A question he’d answered a thousand times before, the man quipped, “I’d have to say, The Best of the Beatles.” A spark lit in Tim Farron’s eyes, spotting an opportunity to connect, man-to-man, quoter-to-quoter, watcher-of-TV-to-watcher-of-TV.

“Smell my spaniel, you mother!” Tim Farron belted, thrusting an imaginary dog on a fork into the Beatles fan’s face.

The blank look clanged louder than the sound of a thousand pennies dropping. He’d ballsed it up, in rather spectacular fashion. “It wasn’t a dog that Alan thrust into that man’s face,” Tim Farron realised. “It was cheese. It was cheese, you mother!”

“Mercy, why would there be a dog on a fork in a restaurant? What kind of restaurant serves dogs on forks? Tim, you buffoon! You bloody buffoon!”

A moment stretches into eternity, threaded with red-cheeked shame and unease.

“Err,” the man in the Beatles shirt said. “Yeah, haha. Cool.”

“No,” Tim Farron said, shuffling away. “Not very cool, really.”

Photos: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images