This is a wonderful story about a dog who lost both rear legs as a new-born pup. Please click on the link to the CBC news item from Saskatchewan.
Yvonne will love this one.
animals, autumn, Beauty, Chingford, creation, dogs, El Lawrence, England, Essex, Greenwich Meridian, growing up in the 1950s, humour, Lawrence of Arabia, London, nature, North Chingford, philosophy, Pole Hill, reflections, Robin Hood, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E Lawrence, thought, travel
T. E. Lawrence is my hero. That’s ‘El Lawrence” or Lawrence of Arabia. The famous mystic, philosopher, writer and leader of arab armies. But it’s not because of all those things that he is my hero. In fact, I struggled to try to read some of his, for me, heavy going writing. No, he is my hero for the gift he gave me. I say me, because the gift was a wonderful part of my growing up in Chingford, Essex, England. The gift, was a gift of land that Lawrence gave to the people of Chingford. It is known as Pole Hill. A protected area of land in North Chingford that would have once been part of Epping Forest.
I loved Pole Hill as a boy. It was within easy cycling distance of our house and consists of woods, hills and gullies. It is a beautiful place, perfect for boyhood adventures. We would play cowboys there, cops and robbers, Robin Hood and many imaginative action games.
One of my favourite activities was to ride my bicycle down one side of a huge dry gully and peddle like mad to make it up the other side. I was flying my Spitfire in a dogfight; racing my motorcycle; driving in a grand prix; chasing bandits in a police car; I was Ben-Hur careening along in my chariot; there was no end to the excitement riding in those gullies.
There were numerous opportunities to climb trees that were leaning at forty-five degrees or that had fallen over. They became pirate boats that we were boarding, or dense jungle in darkest Africa – was that Livingston over there? The trees also gave cover for the many games we played. I was Robin Hood hiding from the evil Sheriff’s men. Long sticks became swords and we fought great battles between the black and red knights. The undergrowth provided dense bushes with clear middles that became secret dens and hideouts.
We could be lost in our imaginations on Pole Hill all day and ride home grubby, dishevelled, with grazed knees and elbows and hungry for dinner. This was and is a special place. It also had a scientific purpose.
There is a special marker near the summit of the hill. This marked the line of the Greenwich Meridian (known these days as the Prime Meridian). For North Americans Greenwich is pronounced gren-ich. No green and no witch. This is 0º longitude and the place where time-zones begin. Internationally time zones are measured as so many hours plus or minus Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. The sign marking this spot was erected in 1824 (or there a bouts). Unfortunately a few years later the line of the Greenwich Meridian was adjusted a few yards. So the actual line of the meridian is some feet to the east of the historic marker. It’s no longer one of the pillars of wisdom I guess. Notice the clever segue to T.E. Lawrence.
According to his correspondence, Lawrence purchased the land in 1919 (the year my mother made her entrance on the world stage). He only had sufficient capital left to build a modest shack on the side of the hill, where he lived for several years. I don’t know why or when Lawrence gave this large parcel of beautiful land to the people of Chingford but I will always be grateful. In autumn the trees turn amazing colours of rust and the leaves fall to make deep piles of rustling carpets. The forest has always inspired me and next to the sea was my favourite place as a boy.
I only remember one specific incident at Pole Hill. A few of us had cycled up to Pole Hill and were playing, when a strange dog came charging up to us. I think I may have been watching too many episodes of Lassie, where there had been a ‘mad dog’, that may have had rabies. I didn’t know that there was no rabies in England at this time. The dog that had come bounding up to us, probably looking for some boys to play with, had foam spraying out of his mouth. He was jumping about and had obviously been running for some time as his enormously long tongue was hanging out of his mouth. I’m not sure which of us yelled first, but the word “rabies” burst through the sound of the twittering birds, rustling leaves and panting dog.
I knew there was a police station at the bottom of an alley that ran down from Pole Hill. “I’m going to tell the police” I said. I was pumped up and full of the importance of my mission. I jumped on my bicycle and rode as fast as I could down the hill. I had never been in a police station before. The only policeman I knew was Frances’s father, who lived across the street from us. He drove a police car.
I went into the station and went up to a policeman standing at the desk. “Yes sonny, what can I do for you today?”. I was out of breath and over excited but eventually gabbled out my story “wild dog, foaming mouth, could be rabies, loose on Pole Hill”.
The policeman called to another officer and suggested he accompany me up the hill to have a look at this dog. They didn’t seem too concerned and in no particular hurry. “He’s up there now, there are children up there, we need to hurry” I either said or thought, who knows?
Well, I had seen Mr Plod the policeman in the Noddy books and he never seemed to hurry either. This policeman didn’t even bring his bike, he decided to walk, so I had to push my bike walking with him. But I had to keep slowing down as the was walking a slow and steady pace.
By the time we reached the top of the hill the other boys reported that the dog had run off – probably chasing a small animal.
I can’t remember how things ended, but the policeman said good bye to us and I suspect told us to let them know if the dog came back, but not to worry, he was probably just overheated and excited. The policeman slowly made his way back down the hill.
I hope boys and girls are still playing on Pole Hill today – I wonder if they are allowed to wonder around there unaccompanied by adults. Are places any more dangerous now than they were when we were children? I really don’t think they are. But we are an anxiety driven society. Anxiety and fear are great motivators for selling media and other products but suppress so much joy and spontaneity of life.
Next time you are in or near Chingford, go and have a quiet walk around Pole Hill. Look over the Lee Valley and see across north and east London. Maybe you will see young boys peddling their bikes up and down the gullies.
Next time, a photo essay of July at Hillside Beach. But I’ll need wi-fi access before loading the photographs.
I’m staying on my mother’s side of the family visiting some of her other cousins. They were very nice, but their children were too good to be true. Butter wouldn’t melt…
They were always perfectly polite; knew when to speak and when to be silent (they must have studied Ecclesiastes). They were always polished. Maybe they kept them on the mantelpiece when no one was visiting. They were really very nice but a hard act to follow.
Mum and I went over by bus for tea. I was decked out in my best clothes and we got to ride on the top deck of the bus – a triple-decker day!
We had a nice time visiting mum’s side of the family. But the time did drag a bit. There wasn’t anything to play with but the cake was good. I had sat like an angel all afternoon when mum’s cousin asked me, “Do you have any pets?” Now things were looking up. This was my territory, I loved animals (still do). “Yes, I said, we have lots of pets.”
“Oh, what kinds of pets do you have?” I started to inch out on a limb, as well as liking animals, I was enthralled by comedians. I think if I had known then what a stand-up comedian was that’s what I would have wanted to be.
“Well,” I started to reply, my eyes looking into a visualized distance, “we have a pet dog named Chota, we have a pet cat named Dinky, we have a pet rabbit named Tinkerbell and” this was the moment of inspiration, “we have a pet cow!”.
“A cow? you have a cow?” someone asked. My mother looked surprised at this news. She started to make mouthing movements like a fish breathing.
Now I moved right to the very end of the limb, “Yes, we have a pet cow! There she is” and I pointed to my mother.
I think I could hear the hair standing up on the back of my mother’s arms. Dead silence.
My mother just glared at me (at the same time trying not to burst out laughing). The other adults looked like someone had mad a bad smell and changed the subject. Very shortly afterwards we had to leave! Apparently the bus was going to be early…
I did find out two things that day. Being a comedian is harder than it looks (so was Mum’s hand by the way), and it is possible to nag a child for three complete bus routes.
I don’t remember visiting mum’s family again.
Post Script: This was one of mum’s favourite stories from my childhood, one which she loved to tell again and again to my children and grandchildren.
Some of my happiest memories as a boy growing up are of our summer holidays at Westbrook in Kent. Westbrook is next door to Margate a favourite seaside resort for Londoners – at least it was in the 50s.
Margate is the brash, unkempt end of the area with strong touristy smells and sights. It was also the home of Dreamland – a permanent amusement park. Just the word Dreamland would make my heart flutter and give me a wonderful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I think I was in love with Dreamland – it was that kind of feeling. We were allowed to visit Dreamland once on every holiday.
We would never say we went to Margate on Holiday, we went to Westbrook which was more middle-class territory. Snobbish you say – well, those were the days.
We used to stay at a boarding house owned and run by Mr and Mrs Ward. Mrs Ward was a real gem. She made everyone welcome and had a special relationship with all the children. My first memory of going to Mrs Ward’s was when I was about five. At that time I had almost white-blond hair. Mrs Ward used to call me Snowball. My brother, who is six years my senior (I enjoyed saying that, senior), used to tease me – “Ahhh – Snowball…ooo-oooh Snowball” which I hated. But, secretly, I quite liked Mrs Ward giving me a special name. One of the things she did was to apple-pie the children’s beds on their last night there. This is a way of folding the sheets to make it impossible to get into bed! Lot’s of fun, lots of running around the house and laughing and screaming, it almost made up for the fact we would be leaving in the morning. Mrs Ward would look after the children in the evening so the mums and dads could go out. We received three meals a day and all for just a few pounds a week! To make it perfect Mrs Ward’s house was only a block from the sea-front and the sand! But leave your buckets and spades outside in the box, thank you.
We used to go for two weeks in July each year. I could hardly wait for those two weeks. As I remember it every day of the fortnight was happy.
The first story I want to tell you is an incident with a beach game called Jokari. A paddle game with a hard rubber ball attached to a wooden block by a very long rubber string. But more about this later.
We spent most of our holiday on or next to the sand. My Dad really didn’t like sand – he didn’t like the way it got in your shoes or stuck to everything. But he loved to be beside the sea. I loved the sand and the sea. All along the beach was a sea-wall and pedestrian walkway known as the promenade or prom for short. The town council had erected beach-huts along the prom which could be rented by the week. Dad rented a beach-hut for the two weeks we were there each year. These huts provided a small personal area outside and were equipped with a gas-ring inside for boiling water for tea (this was England remember). It was also where we kept our deck chairs, buckets and spades, beach-balls, cricket bats, beach towels and toys. It’s primary purpose was, however, as a changing room. The sea around the Kent coast is never very warm. Coming in from swimming and having turned a blue from the cold, it was wonderful to be able to huddle in the beach-hut and change into warm dry clothes and enjoy a hot cuppa tea (sic).
One year my brother bought or was given a Jokari set. As I mentioned above Jokari was a game that involved hitting a hard rubber ball with a paddle – the ball being attached to a long rubber string would bounce and then come flying back to be struck again. Jokari could be played alone – in which case the challenge was to see how many repetitive hits you could make before missing – or in pairs – the object being to get your opponent to miss the ball. It was a fun game. My brother being older (and more sporty) than me could usually win. He also spent a lot more time practicing while I preferred to make sandcastles on the beach. Most often we played Jokari on the prom as the ground was harder and more even than the sand and the ball bounced a little more evenly. However, some days the prom would be too crowded with walkers and we would have to keep stopping. On these days we moved the game to a relatively empty spot on the sand.
One day, while playing Jokari on the sand, we were visited by a local dog. This shaggy dog was often on the beach joining in games of cricket or asking for a stick to be thrown into the sea. In those days dogs were allowed to roam freely and most places had one or two friendly dogs well-known in the neighbourhood.
Shaggy, as I shall call this one, watched our game of Jokari – he would run after the ball as it was hit, then be surprised when it reversed its direction and came flying back towards the batters. Shaggy kept this up for a while before getting wise to the ball’s rather predictable habits. Once he figured it out, he changed tactics and laid in wait for the ball on its return flight. Springing into action, Shaggy leapt and snapped at the ball and caught it! Keeping a firm grip on the ball he was off. He started to run away with the ball, looking for a safe place to put it down between his paws so that he could chew and lick it.
Now, in those days people used to rent deck chairs to sit on the beach. These were wooden frames with a canvas slung seat. They could be adjusted to different levels of reclining. Comedians used to perform very funny sketches trying to set up a deck chair and always ending up by sitting on one that would collapse.
Shaggy, as I said, took off with our ball. We took chase to get it back. Shaggy was wily, he ran underneath a number of occupied deck chairs. He ran quite a way, and passed underneath quite a few deck chairs. We had to run around sand-castles and avoid the odd bodies sunning themselves (and odd is about as kind as I can be). Eventually Shaggy decided he had gone far enough – or perhaps the rubber attached to the ball could be stretched no further. Unfortunately for Shaggy, he didn’t understand the science behind stretched rubber! He went to set the ball down, very carefully between his paws, he gently opened his mouth. Immediately the ball made its escape. It was a very rapid escape, returning in the exact opposite route of its kidnapper. This route took the hard, bouncing, rubber ball, back under all the occupied deck chairs. It was quite a sight. The ball apparently was bouncing up and striking the people relaxing on their deck chairs. Men and women make quite different sounds when struck on the under side by a hard ball travelling at great speed. There were yells and high-pitched yelps. What was common among both genders was the sudden jerking upwards in surprise. There was also a commonality in the looking around to discover who had perpetrated this infringement of their privacy and attack on their nether regions.
Shaggy played it cool, looking rather innocent but perplexed. Mugwump and I also tried to look cool, and decided to wait before retrieving the Jokari block and ball. Trying to look cool also means trying to hold in a huge amount of laughter. We eventually burst – and did some terrible damage to our bodies, splitting our sides and laughing our heads off (this last was borrowed from a recent blog I read and comment on).
My Dad’s favourite Knock Knock Joke – Knock knock, “who’s there”. “Lucy”. “Lucy who”. “Lucy Lastic”. Nothing loose about our Jokari elastic that day.
Coming soon – Chapter II of Westbrook Seaside Stories: “Don’t rile us, we’re British”
Note: the antique photographs were mostly processed by my Dad. He made a darkroom out of our small toilet (very inconvenient when he was developing a lot of film!). I scanned these black and white photos and added the antique colouring. To see larger versions just click on the individual photos.
When CJ (our last dog, a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier) decided we needed looking after and adopted us, we weren’t expecting a musical prodigy. There again she probably wasn’t expecting me to wear a dog-collar. So we are even on that score (pun intended).
But I need to give you some background before we enter into CJ’s musical phase.
This is CJ or Calamity Jane. Why Calamity Jane? When she was a puppy if there was trouble, CJ was always near-by. I won’t bore you with my resistance to getting a dog. I love dogs, but know how much care they take, and the cost of vets, and how they can tie you down if you want to travel. But the three women in the house wore me down and basically I was overruled. “Oh yes Dad, I’ll clean up after our dog; Oh yes Dad I’ll take our dog for walks; Oh yes Dad I’ll groom our dog…” R-i-g-h-t!
As one of us had asthma at the time we had definitely decided to get a Miniature Schnauzer. It would be the perfect size for us, a bit yappy perhaps, but they are fun dogs. We decided to attend the large dog show held annually in Winnipeg (Mid-Canada Dog Show) looking for reputable Miniature Schnauzer breeders.
As we were going towards the terrier area, we bumped into a colleague who it turns out was a Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier enthusiast. It turns out that Wheatons are also people enthusiasts and we soon found ourselves the recipients of the Wheaton Hug. These dogs love to jump – and they love to stand and put their front legs around your neck – and give you a big sloppy wet one. Strangely enough, we actually found this endearing. It was love at first sight for the four of us.
I understand Wheaton’s were originally an Irish farm dog, bred to keep vermin down – mice etc. CJ certainly enjoyed herding, and if you threw her a ball she wouldn’t try to catch it with her mouth, she would pounce on it or swat it with her paw. (Never to be mentioned in her hearing, but her behaviour in this regard was rather cat-like).
Moving along a bit – the waiting list for well-bred Wheatons was over a year. We were on a list for a planned litter. But, CJ, at 4 months old became available. She had been selected as a show-dog and for breeding but was discovered to have an inguinal hernia. So her show and breeding career was over before it got started. But this was our great fortune. We could have her as long as we signed, in blood, to have her neutered, not use choke collars, not tether her…the rules were long. Her breeders really cared about their dogs.
The man who had bought her with the plan of raising her for show and breeding had spent a number of months training her – especially doing ‘mouth work’. CJ would not let one of her teeth come into contact with any part of a human. She thought we were real wimps and couldn’t take the slightest pain from an errant dog tooth. She was amazingly careful when taking a treat. She would actually form a bit of a pout and take the offering in her lips.
She also came with her own set of rules. One was, she would not enter the kitchen while her meal was being prepared. She waited just outside the kitchen door. And, she would not eat with a human in the kitchen! So we had to place her dinner bowl on her mat, then back away, bowing low, and once we had left the room, she would proceed to delicately eat her meal. Her meal preferences are a whole other story (did I mention picky?) – for another time perhaps.
CJ didn’t always have her ‘show-face’ on, as can be seen from this picture of her when she was little older. But her two great loves were car rides and going to our cabin at the lake. She preferred to sit in the driver’s seat – but she wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the peddles, so we convinced her to move over so Dad or Mum could drive.
It’s time to talk about CJ’s music career. A talent we hadn’t expected and which came as a complete surprise when she was about six years old.
We had a lovely old upright piano used by the girls when they pretended to practice. However, it did keep the piano tuner in business every six months or so.
One day, we were sitting around the dinner table, in the dining-room (where else, you say) which was adjacent to the living room (or lounge) where the piano was living its upright life. The piano couldn’t be seen from the dining table – it was around a corner. Suddenly we heard the piano – someone was playing it. Now it didn’t sound musical to me, but I have found that about ‘music’ at the New Music Festival and much popular music too – so who was I to be the critic. The pounding of the piano keys continued. We stopped talking, stopped eating and just looked at each other. Someone would have to investigate. As the man of the house, apparently, I was the most expendable. So I quietly peered around the corner. Well, knock me over and call me Gershwin, there was CJ, standing at the piano, pawing at the keys with both paws.
I suggested she stop. Which she did, but stared at the piano as though it was something needing to be watched. The rest of the evening was uneventful. At least, as far as we knew.
I can’t remember the exact sequence and timing of events, but CJ’s piano practices continued. We would hear the piano being let’s say ‘used’, I think ‘played’ may be overstating it. We would shoo her away. It wouldn’t be long before she would be back practicing. I must say, her practicing didn’t sound as though it made much difference. I seem to recall us going through some times like that with the human musicians too.
Eventually I decided I needed to explore her playing. Instead of stopping her, I went over to watch closely and to listen. I discovered that she had the ability to make the piano squeak in addition to the regular piano sound. When she hit the notes, there would be the bing or dong of the notes and then a squeak, squeak.
Strange, the piano hadn’t sounded like that before. Was it time for the tuner again? Then the piano squeaked when CJ was just sitting on the floor away from the piano – she immediately leapt up and started playing. Aha, I thought, there is more to this than meets the eye (or ear) – I’m quick like that.
I undid the front panel of the piano and discovered a little nest of mice right by the sounding board, actually between the sounding board and piano wires whose vibrations caused the notes. CJ had heard the mice, probably smelt them too, under the piano, and in trying to reach them had been hitting the keys. Every time she hit the keys, the mice would be half deafened by the piano strings vibrating next to their little pointed ears and squeak in annoyance or shock.
I won’t take my readers down the dark path of destruction that followed and the demise of the ‘vermin’. Suffice it to say, the fate of the three blind mice at the hands of the farmer’s wife, was less conclusive.
Post-script. Some time later, one of our daughters had a group of friends stay at the cabin with us for the weekend to celebrate her birthday. CJ loved the girls and spent a lot of time growling and barking at them and herding them into corners, much to their delight and squeals of laughter. She wouldn’t hurt a fly – or a girl come to that – and as it turns out she wouldn’t hurt a mouse either. We discovered a field mouse had gotten into the cottage. You can imagine the different squealing now as the girls ran and climbed on the back of the couch (settee), as Dad tried to catch the mouse – hoping to trap it in a corner so it could be captured and taken outside and released far, far away. Every time the mouse ran through the living room the girls all jumped up on the couch and screamed. The girls were not alone! CJ, while not screaming – also ran away from the mouse and jumped up on the back of the couch with the girls. I don’t think she had jumped up there to offer them protection! Now if it had been a bear I am sure she would have defended us to the death if necessary – but hey, mice, no thank you – in this modern world we have people for that.
This is the third in this dog story series. If you want to read them in sequence click on Dog Stories in the menu then select the post by date.
In the first story I told you a little about our dog Chota (Pekingese). Chota and I grew up together. He had a long and good life but had a bad heart towards its end. His dying was sad but beautiful. Mum, Dad and I were in the kitchen where Chota was resting in his bed. He was obviously struggling and the end was near. Chota got up and came up to each one of us in turn. Gave each of us a little dry lick, went back to his bed, laid back down and quietly went to sleep… We are sure he knew what was happening and wanted to say goodbye.
After a little while of grieving his death, Mum and Dad decided they needed another dog. They decided on another Pekingese. They knew more about the breed by then and found a very good breeder. We made an appointment to drive across London to go and ‘just look’ at some pups. R-i-g-h-t, just look.
I’m sure you know, people don’t choose puppies, puppies choose us! Such was the case with our selection. All the puppies were adorable and bouncy. But this one little fellow was way out front, he took charge of us almost at once. The deal was done – Dad, was good at naming and he chose the name Ming Ki Lee (Kighley is a family name of ours, I’d never heard the Chinese sounding connection before Dad came up with it). But from that day on the puppy was known (far and wide) as Ming. Ming had a very black face and light coloured fur. He was a very pretty dog, in a manly sort of way.
We arrived home going in the back door (the door opened into the kitchen). Ming immediately went round to the spot where Chota used to have his water bowl, and looked up expectantly for some water. Dog’s know things we don’t.
After about fifteen minutes Mum wanted to show off our new buddy. So we took Ming around to the next street where Nan S. lived. We didn’t have a harness small enough for Ming so he just ran along with us. What surprised us was that he would run a little way ahead, then stop and wait for all three of us to go by before running ahead again. He had already counted the number in the pack and took it as his responsibility to make sure we were all herded together before taking a lead position again! Dog’s understand more than we imagine.
As you can guess Ming grew to be a force to be reckoned with in our household. I’m not sure how it began, but we came to notice that Ming loved Polo Mints (English peppermints with a hole in the middle that look like Lifesavers).
This became the treat of choice and the grocery list always included a dozen rolls of Polo’s. Very soon, Ming had made it known that entry to the house required Ming receiving a Polo from whoever was entering – family or visitor alike. Some frequent visitors brought their own packets and Ming would sit up and beg for his mint. New or less frequent visitors would find a conveniently placed package of Polo’s on the shelf by the door as they entered. No mint, no entry, Ming’s rules.
Ming was a very friendly little guy but also considered himself in charge of security for the property. There was no threat too large for Ming. Some tradesmen (milkman. etc. started bringing their own Polo packets to keep on the boss’s good side.
In Ming’s early years we were still having coal or coke (the fuel kind) delivered. This came in hundredweight bags – carried in by big muscular men known as, well, coalmen. These were pretty tough guys. It was hard and dirty work. They wore heavy jackets, monster work gloves and big hefty boots. As can be attested to in the “I wanted to be a Judge” skit in “Beyond the Fringe” it hurts to drop a large lump of coal on your foot.
Anyway, these guys were strong, tough, and well protected – but Ming would not let them in through the side gate to the coal-bunker. They refused to come in unless he was put inside the house. :Ere missus, can you put yer dog in, ‘e won’t le’ us in”. He really could look ferocious, all twelve and a half inches of him. I can attest to his ferociousness. We got on very well, but even I wouldn’t dare try to touch one of his bones; he loved lamb-chop bones and any other bone. I know, today, we are discouraged from giving dogs splintery bones, but Ming was a master at knowing just how much chewing to do. But his growl and bared teeth were definitely reason to stay clear of his bones, even old green looking ones that he appeared to have discarded or forgotten on the lawn. These were quietly disposed of by cover of night!
Ming was a very intelligent dog, but had his quirky side. He thought he should be able to catch the birds that went after his bones in the garden. He would go flying (not literally) along the path to chase the birds and as they lifted off in flight just ahead of him, would jump into the air, land and look around seemingly puzzled about why he couldn’t fly. We watched him a few times when there were no birds about. He would run down the grass and try to jump into the air. After a few months he gave up on this project.
One of Ming’s gifts was the ability to crack a hazelnut shell into three identical pieces and retrieve the kernel from inside. Ming loved Christmas time as there were always plenty of nuts about. And I’m not just talking about the family gatherings. He loved eating nuts.
It was the family custom on Christmas day, to have dinner around 1pm. We would adjourn to the next living room to gather round the tv to hear the Queen’s Speech. As you can imagine for a young boy this was definitely a highlight of Christmas. One year, after listening to the speech, we went back into the dining room to discover Ming standing on the dining table licking out the remains of liqueur glasses. Apparently a better treat even than hazel nuts.
Another time we were gathered in the living room watching a movie I think, when Ming kept asking to be let into the dining room (there were glass doors separating the rooms. He kept wanting to come in then go out, then come in and go out. After a while Mum or Dad, I can’t remember which, had had enough and said something like “What on earth do you want Ming?”. They went into the other room with him to discover that one by one Ming had been helping himself to a box of chocolates. These were the wrapped kind. There were wrappers all over the floor. Ming was in disgrace. Mum loved chocolates too!
Each summer we used to go for a holiday in the West Country of England. This two weeks away was the highlight of my year. For a few years we stayed at a small English hotel called the Merton in Minehead, Somerset. This was a lot like Fawlty Towers, not the management, just the building and overall style. Mum and Dad liked to take Ming, so they stayed in the annex, a bungalow where the two owners lived and where there was an extra guest room.
Derek, one of the owners loved dogs. But because he couldn’t be trusted not to kill them through spoiling, was not allowed to own one. Derek thought the world of Ming, and Ming, of course, lapped up the attention – as well as the polo mints Derek kept on the bar for him.
Mum, Dad, and I would often drop in for a drink before dinner at the hotel, Ming always went along. Derek managed the bar. One late afternoon we arrived in the bar, Derek saw us, looked down and in a panic said “Oh Ming, Oh no! I don’t have any Polos left!”. This for Derek and Ming was a catastrophe. However, Derek was fast, he said “Don’t worry Ming, I know what to do.” He then broke open a brand new bottle of Creme De Menthe, took a sugar cube, dipped the sugar in the liqueur and gave it to a very satisfied Ming.
There are many other stories I could tell you about Ming, but for now this will give you a view of our pint-sized, mint-conditioned Ming. His only disappointment, I believe, was that he never learnt to fly.
Part II: Come Back Pete
My mother used to be terrified of dogs. She hadn’t grown up around dogs and didn’t know much about them. Mum and Dad met as Sunday School teachers. Apparently church was a good place to meet girls back then. After their friendship developed Dad invited Mum to his home to meet his mother (Dad’s father had ben killed in the first world war when Dad was only eight). Dad took Mum home and showed her into the living-room and asked her to wait while he went to find his mother.
Dad closed the door behind Mum, she sat down on the settee, feeling a little nervous. That’s when she heard the breathing. More of a deep panting than regular breathing. Rather heavy sounding panting. Even a hungry sounding panting. Mum slowly looked around and there, right beside her, was an enormous dog. He was staring intently at her, panting and drooling a little. When she was sitting the dog’s eyes were level with her’s (and my mum was quite tall, about 5′ 9″). Mum was terrified, scared to move, too scared to call out. Dad had failed to mention they had a Great Dane named Puck, and that Puck was quite harmless. Puck continued to stare at my Mother and pant and drool some more. It must have seemed an eternity before Dad came back and rescued Mum. Puck was about the friendliest, softest, kindest dog you could meet. Once they had been properly introduced Puck and Mum became good friends. In fact Mum became a dog person.
Despite this traumatic beginning to their relationship, Mum and Dad eventually married and had dogs of their own, as well as my brother and me.
Before moving on to Pete, I’ll insert a quick note about Puck’s character. Dad’s family also had a cat (and a parrot, but we won’t talk about him today). Puck and the cat were great friends. But their friendship and the cat’s trust of Puck was notably demonstrated when the cat had kittens. It seems the cat was even friendlier than Puck!
Puck used to look after the kittens while mum-the-cat went to eat and do other things not to be mentioned here. Puck would sit by the kittens’ basket and wash them. Unfortunately, Puck was a large dog, with a rather wet lick. The kittens were very small. There were occasions when family members had to rescue one or more kittens from drowning. Puck loved those little kittens and helped the cat raise them.
But you are anxious to learn about Come Back Pete. Actually he was just called Pete. Pete was of uncertain parentage and didn’t display any noticeable breeding. He was the kind of dog who travelled round the neighbourhood daily. It was still the time in England when dogs could roam freely. Pete was a very friendly guy. He loved people, but was especially fond of children. Apparently, Pete liked to visit the local school at playtime (recess for US readers who need translation). He seemed to have worked out when the school breaks were and would arrive at the school in time to play with the kids.
To get to the school from our house meant a fairly long walk down the main road known as Chingford Mount Road – or The Mount, and a long, steep climb back. On a clear day you can see St. Paul’s Cathedral from the top of the mount (about twelve miles away). I saw St. Paul’s from The Mount twice in my 21 years living in Chingford!
Pete could often be seen trotting up or down The Mount. Usually Pete was pretty good at crossing streets and made it there and back safely. Unfortunately, one day, Pete misjudged his crossing, there was a squeal of brakes and tyres (tires for US readers). A very concerned woman got out of her car and found Pete lying on the road. She found his collar and the tag that displayed his name and address. She carefully lifted Pete’s lifeless body, laid him on the back seat of her car and drove to my parent’s house.
The woman carried Pete up the path, rang the bell, and explained to my mother what had happened. The woman was very upset and apologetic at not being able to avoid Pete. Mum was naturally upset, but tried to let the woman know that she understood it was not her fault. They laid Pete carefully down in the kitchen. After a while the woman said goodbye to Mum and walked towards her car looking very sad. Mum closed the front door and went to look at poor Pete.
It was at this moment that Pete opened his eyes, jumped up, wagged his tail and ran and jumped out of the front room window! Pete ran right past the woman who was just getting into her car. Mum stayed indoors and away from the window!
Had Pete been stunned or had Pete figured out a great way to get a ride home in a car? We will never know. But I will always feel a smile coming on whenever I think about Come Back Pete.
I thought it was time for something a little more light-hearted. I love dogs and dogs have been a big part of my life, so I thought I would tell some doggy tales (tails?). These are all true stories. There may be a few embellishments.
Part 1 My Closest Sibling was a Dog!
The title is not a rude comment about my older and only brother. it’s about my mother’s love of dogs. Shortly after I was born my mother persuaded my father that we needed a dog. She had had a dog before, Pete, but more of him in another post. Mum liked the look of Pugs and Pekingese, perhaps it was the contrast with the distinctive noses of my father’s side of the family. I inherited one of these facial protuberances.
The decision was to purchase a Pekingese dog. The little puppy was so tiny (or so I was told – I was pretty tiny myself at the time), that my father named him Chota. Dad had spent several years during the war serving in India. Chota, I believe means tiny or small. Chota was still teething when he joined our family. Apparently it was a warm, sunny summer. Those were the days when English mother’s still pushed their babies in prams (perambulators) and left them outside different shops (butchers, bakers, greengrocers etc) while they shopped. It was completely safe, well, except for the danger of strange women poking their faces into the pram and going coochy coo. I am convinced this must have happened to me and that’s why I need a great deal of personal space! Don’t crowd me.
Mum didn’t like to leave the little puppy all alone while she did her shopping. It could take all morning. Not because the shops were that far, or because she spent a great deal of time in the shops. No, it was because of all the conversations she had on the way there and the way back. I can attest to this, as when I was older I can remember having to wait hours for her to have a conversation with someone she knew and ‘bumped into’. I think I aged a year during the course of one conversation.
Anyway, not wanting to leave the puppy out of these adventures, she would pop Chota in the pram with the baby (me). We got to be very close – he was more hairy and I had the more prominent nose, but apart from that it was like having a rather hairy and snuffly brother.
One day while Chota and I were passing the time, in the pram, outside a shop, a woman started to scream – “That dog’s eating the baby”. It wasn’t Merrill Streep. My mother came running out of the shop to discover that all that was happening was Chota was gnawing on my fingers. I told you he was teething. He really had no teeth at all and was just gumming my fingers.
Chota and I grew up together – he grew old, while I just grew. We had good times together and he taught me how to be with dogs.
Next time I’ll talk about my mother’s fear of dogs and her cure.
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