The first dog in my life was a black Labrador cross called Scamp, rescued by my father from being tied up at a playing field. Scamp endured with patient good humour my lugging him about and playing dress up. Back in the dear dead days beyond recall, he was allowed to run, collar and licence plainly in view, and came home – – mostly – at night. He bore our teasing about what he had been up to when he didn’t make it back with modest restraint. After all, we were only humans …
He once ate a whole egg custard from where it was put to cool on a window sill. I still don’t know whether my mother was more appalled at the waste of eggs (rationed at the time) or that he left her peerless pastry case untouched. But he redeemed himself by dragging home a quilt when we short of bedding (it was washed and used) and once, a leg of mutton.
Meat rationing was a big deal and mum went round the block asking if anybody was missing meat. Not getting much joy, she sponged the treasure trove with malt vinegar and water, and cooked it, giving the credit to Scamp along with the bone.
He died in a patch of sunlight one Easter in the front garden and my father buried him under the raspberry canes in the back garden – less recycling, more facts of life (see the film Bad Day at Black Rock with Spencer Tracy and think about the luxuriant green of battle wracked Northern France and Belgium after the Great War.)
Susie was a rescue job and my first experience of an English bullterrier, a breed familiarly imprinted on me. Nowadays, when four legs and a bad mouth masquerades as a pit bull and a seemingly second Victorian age underscores how the other half live and the money in dog fighting, English bullterriers are widely misunderstood.
Yes, they were bred to win bets at bull baiting or killing rats to time in a pit. They are grimly good at the latter (one bite, jaws lock, rodent tossed aside) but a made up breed that crosses dalmatians, greyhounds and foxhounds with the now gone English White Terrier produced a longnosed fearsome fighter with surprising eccentricities. Marmite dogs, you either like them or you don’t and if you keep one, you mustn’t allow it to fight.
Susie was marked like a foxhound in black and white and tan with a gimp leg and butterfly ears. I still don’t know where ma scared up the £30 for her, but she did.
Susie would stare fixedly at my mother, her gaze apparently searing through the newspaper, till my mother got the hint and took her out for a walk. The face of accusation with a twinkle in those triangular eyes – I can see it yet.“Ojibway nation which has a white dog – see The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford”
Now all grown up, I have shared two English bullterriers, a white velvet tank called Spike who died horribly young of liver cancer and a brindled canine pinup called Elizabeth – Lizzie – which, given my son’s name is Taylor gave rise to one of his father best lines. “Why” asked an unsuspecting American in the park “do you call your dog after a film star ?”
“Great chest and lousy taste in men” was the reply.
Lizzie probably grinned.
Now I don’t have a dog. Periodically somebody close asks if I would but the truth is, I doubt it. I am not sure of the lease and the neighbours aren’t always friendly. I love my garden and I don’t think even a miniature bull terrier would.
I could have all sorts of other things including a Staffie or a French bulldog but they would constitute a tie and I don’t want to be tied.
I haven’t learned as much as I might in life but I know there is a difference between what you think you would like and how that makes you see yourself, and the reality of wishful thinking. I like the idea of myself with a dog, just as I dream of a big kitchen and lots of people round the table. The reality is I’d have to walk whatever it was several times a day, the kitchen is small and I rarely cater for more than two or three. I remember the dogs in my life or I “borrow” one for affectionate exchange, which sends me off smiling, even as I am writing this. Beloved fourfoots, friendly shades.
Below Mark Jacobs and friend.