Tag Archives: dogs

The Neighbours Are Upset

It was my first day back in the village after more than a year away at uni. I was 18 years old.  Mum thought I should make myself useful by returning the old lawnmower to my Nan. It was her way of getting me from under her feet. Nan lived on a small council estate just off the main village street, with her grown daughter and son, my Aunt Nellie and Uncle Ike.

The mower was rusty, not having been near an oil can for the best part of a decade. It was too heavy to carry, so I decided to push the reluctant creature the back way through the estate. I thought it would also attract less attention than using the main street. Which turned out to be a big mistake.

Nan’s estate was part of a larger swath of houses built cheaply by the local council after the war, to provide homes for victims of the war from down in the town. Uniform semis built in greyish brick and roofing tiles had brick chimneys and tiled fireplaces for burning the local coal. Small windows slotted into metal window frames let in what little daylight managed to penetrate the polluted skies. Each house had a small garden to hang washing. The houses were arranged in winding streets named after trees, Alder Avenue or Sycamore Crescent, in an attempt to raise their status a notch. A few one-storey bungalows for pensioners rounded off the estate. Inside the houses were regarded as modern with a bathroom, indoor lavatory, back boiler and gas stove. The kitchen walls were plastered, just brick, coated with a thick layer of green oil paint.

Nan’s house was on the edge of the estate, bounded on one by the main village street and on the other by a deep cutting which housed the railway line to Liverpool. Having used up all the local trees, the council plumped for place names. Nan lived in Gloucester Road, off Lancaster Road. It was a quiet street where the houses hid behind both fences and thick privet hedges, to mark their respective territory. The people on the estate were low-income workers who cycled to the chemical plants of the nearby town, leaving their wives at home with the kids, shopping and housework. Several of my schoolmates grew up there.

I set off, pretending it was the most natural thing in the world to push a clattering lawnmower along the uneven slabs of the stone pavement. As I turned into Nan’s street, several heads appeared at upstairs windows, attracted by the din. I quickened my step to get it over with, but the old mower protested loudly. Suddenly a new noise joined in, dogs barking from behind me and getting closer. Turning, I saw two dogs rushing towards me from one of the gardens opposite Nan. I tried desperately to get the mower between me and the attackers, but it was not easy to manoeuvre. Too late, the dogs struck. They both jumped up, growling ferociously. A scruffy black and white sheepdog went for my trouser leg. The material ripped and the dog’s teeth raked the back of my leg. The other one, a mongrel, several shades of brown, sank his front teeth into my right thigh. I shouted as I tried to swing the lawnmower at the dogs like a giant rusty club. It was heavy, but I managed to give the sheepdog a bit of a swipe across the head. But it still didn’t let go of my trouser leg.

Suddenly I hear: “Get back in ‘ere!” from one of the houses. The dogs bolted home like frightened rabbits into their holes, and with some relief I heard a door slam. I stood there all alone. The whole street was silent, no one to be seen. I lifted the mower from where it lay upside down and dragged it the last few yards, leaving it in Nan’s back garden. I didn’t knock, not wanting to worry her or get her worked up about the neighbours. She was a fighter, not to be messed about and noted for her sharp tongue.

I sneaked out of the garden and closed the squeaky gate quietly behind me. My heart was still thumping against my ribs like a base drum. I looked down at my trousers and legs to survey the damage. Fresh blood was trickling down my legs from the bite marks, and both trousers legs were torn. I rubbed my legs with what remained of my trouser legs and limped off towards the village street. What now I thought? Mad dogs? Rabies? Tetanus jab? Doctor?

Instead of returning home, I got the idea of going to see the village doctor. He lived in a large detached house surrounded by an acre of garden and protected from the village street by a high brick wall. There was no gate, which felt welcoming,  so I marched boldly up the gravel driveway. Another mistake.

The only way to reach the front door was via a gate in a low brown wooden fence. A fat basset hound was lying down hiding behind the fence, awaiting his chance to ambush callers, tradesmen and unwanted patients. The hound knew that I would have to open the gate and get past him to reach the doorbell. Already bitten twice, in my desperation to avoid rabies I thought I was in some way immune or protected, that he would feel sorry for me.  He got up and looked at me with a rather superior expression. He was after all the doctor’s dog. I took a deep breath, opened the gate and instantly he was on me, barking and baring his saliva-dripping teeth. I felt them puncturing what was left of my trousers and just as I was going to do a runner, the solid oak front door opened wide and a cultivated female voice enquired,

“Can I help you?” A well-preserved middle-aged woman of class was standing there. It was the doctor’s wife. “Quiet Morris”, she said firmly, and the dog shot inside.

“Sorry to disturb you, but I need a tetanus jab, just been bitten by a couple of dogs on the estate. Is the doctor possibly at home?“

“I’m afraid he’s is not at the moment”, she replied in a voice modulated by many years of elocution lessons.

“Your dog bit me too” I said, “look here,” pointing to my bloody trousers.

“Yes, Morris does that. Try the clinic in the town. I’m sure they will be able to help you.” she said in a rather condescending manner, and firmly closed the front door. It had an expensive sounding thud which echoed around the garden. I hurried away, leaving the gate open on purpose and hoping that Morris would escape and get run over.

In the village street I joined the throng of housewives and pensioners at the bus stop.  A red double decker bus was due to take them the town centre and the local market. Standing at the bus stop I discretely surveyed my torn and blood-stained trousers. Several of the other passengers stared, or so I imagined, but no one said anything. Hopefully that meant they didn’t recognise me. They probably knew Mum from the local church and women’s club. Let them gossip, I thought. I don’t live here anymore.

The town boasted an accident hospital for minor injuries, which I hoped would be more welcoming than the doctor’s wife. I climbed on board as best I could, given my injuries.

“Been in the wars lad?” asked the observant bus conductor, surveying my blood trousers.

“Dogs on the estate!”

”Shoot ‘em all if I had my way! Need to get those seen to”, he said.

“On my way to accident hospital, down by the river.”

” Take you all the way son, only a shilling.”

I paid and, hoped it would shut him up, climbed upstairs to keep out of the way of the village gossips. A used white cotton handkerchief screwed up in my pocket was all I had to wipe the blood from my legs. It had dwindled to a trickle but I still got my hands covered in blood as I tried to scrub the worst mess off. The smell of blood on my hands mixed with diesel fumes from the bus was sickening. The bus took ages, stopping frequently for loud housewives to clamber on board. After the market place I had the bus to myself.

The accident hospital was a large red-brick building down by the river. I forced open the heavy wooden doors and stumbled into what turned out to be the reception. A jolly-looking nurse who presented herself as Edna stepped forward and, seeing my bloody handkerchief, exclaimed in a loud voice:

“What have we here then? Been in the wars I see.”

“Dogs,” I groaned

“How many?”

“Three in all!”

“My my! Record this week” said Edna laughing. “Follow me and we’ll have a look at your wounds.”

She led me to a small treatment room as though I was her “patient of the day”, gathering gossip to amuse colleagues during their tea break.

“Drop your trousers then, what’s left of them, and we’ll have a look at you. “

I hesitated a second or two.

“Don’t be shy now, I’ve seen legs before!”

I did as I was told and lay down on a low bench against the wall.

“Hairy! exclaimed Edna as she examined the bites.

“Yeh, it was quite scary.”

“Your legs I mean, hairy.”

Nurse Edna proceeded to swab off the dried blood and apply disinfectant on the bites and scratches. It stung sharply but I kept quiet until she had finished. Now I sported three oversize dressings held in place with gauze bandages.

“There you are, all done. Be right as rain in a few days.”

“What about a jab?” I asked.

Not deep enough lad, an’ we haven’t had rabies here since the Middle Ages. Up you jump and cover up those hairy pegs again. You can rinse off your hands in the toilet outside.”

“I’m going to report the dogs to the police.”

“Are you then! You’ll need one of these.” said Edna reaching into the desk drawer and pulling out an official-looking form. “Fill this in, name and address, and I’ll do the rest. Show it at the station.”

A big red bus was waiting for me at the stop outside the hospital. The driver had taken a stroll along the promenade for a cig. I climbed up, holding Edna’s form. It had her signature and a purple rubber stamp which said Accident Hospital. I was glad to sit alone on the bus, sights set on the police station a few stops nearer town hall square.

I had never been to a police station before. It was in a scruffy brick building next to the local billiard hall, The Black Cat, where the villains were said to hang out. The standard blue lantern with POLICE on the glass sides told me I had found the right place. Inside the heavy door, a tired looking elderly policeman with several stripes on his uniform got up slowly from his old office chair and approached the reception counter. He had grey hair and a belly which wobbled when he moved. Clearing his throat loudly, he slid the metal shutter to one side and in a rather weary voice asked:

“What can we do you for?”

“I’ve been attacked by three dogs. I want to report it,” I said, in a wavering voice. I handed over Edna’s form.

He glanced at the paper, placed it slowly on the counter and turned away to look for his glasses. He found them, with the help of a younger colleague, and then studied the form for what to me seemed a very long time.

“Sure you want to report this, lad?”

“Yes, ‘m sure” I managed to whisper.

“Where did this incident take place?” he asked in a formal sounding voice.

“The Village, on the estate.”

“Might have guessed.  Nobody down here in’e town ‘d report a dog bite! Kick the buggers, and owners too if they have any.”

“All right. Your privilege.”

He turned to face the office and growled loudly: ”Where’s that new one, got a job for ‘im.”

A young, fresh looking junior policeman appeared, hardly older than me.

“Take this young man up to yon village and get ‘im to identify them dogs as bit him. Chop chop now.”

The young policeman smiled and showed me through a door which led to the police car park. He unlocked a small police car with turquoise and white stripes, a Panda car, used for patrolling. It didn’t feel like a real police car for chasing robbers, but probably put the wind up the locals on the estate.

“Jump in, lad. Up in the village then?”

“Yes, Gloucester Road.”

“Live there do you?”

“No, my Nan does. I’m at uni.”

“What happened?”

I explained as briefly as possible, not mentioning the visit to the doctor’s house´.

“I’m Malcolm. New on the force. Get sent on these cases. Community policing it’s called.”

“What happens now?”

“I’ll go in first and talk to the owners. Then you’ll have to identify the dogs. In these cases, if the dog bites the policeman then it’s cut and dried. Probably get a fine and restraining order.”

Malcolm, a big lad in his early twenties, perched his police hat on his head and marched off up the pathway to number 31, kicking the loose gate open in his stride. I sat in the Panda car, slumped down in the seat, waiting. Occasionally I glanced up towards the houses and noticed net curtains moving. The neighbours were getting something to talk about. After about ten minutes, Malcolm came out and fetched me.

“You’ll have to identify the dog, procedure, but it’s got a muzzle on now. Bit of a giveaway really.”

I followed Malcolm up the pathway and he ushered me into the back kitchen. The black and white sheepdog was lying in the corner, wearing a brown leather muzzle. It growled as soon as it saw me. The owner aimed a kick in the direction of the dog. It retreated into the corner, cowed and silent.

Malcolm followed procedure:

“Is this the dog that attacked you, sir?”

“Yes, I replied”, my voice wavering slightly.

“Well,” said Malcolm, turning towards the owner, “you’ll be hearing from us. And keep that muzzle on when the dog’s outside!”

“That went rather well I think,” said Malcolm, back in the the safety of the car.

“Yes, ‘suppose” was all I could say.

“Want a lift home?”

“No, not far from here, this’ll do. Thanks!”

Malcolm dropped me off on the corner of the estate and drove off, looking satisfied with his day’s work.

Back home Dad was at the kitchen sink shaving. When I came in through the back door he carried on staring into his small round shaving mirror. Mum was in the living room. I felt the tension and disapproval as I stepped inside. She had heard, through the gossip grapevine. It all poured out, as expected:

“Where have you been all this time? Look at the state of them trousers, your good ones. Fancy wearing these to take the mower. Serves you right taking it through that estate, I told you to go along the main street. It’s all over the village, calling the police and making a fuss.  Neighbours are very upset. Don’t tell your Nan, they’re right across from her.”

I didn’t have the energy to argue with her. From the back kitchen Dad must have heard Mum’s outburst. He made a beeline across living room, a characteristic disappearance act to avoid getting involved, muttering “shoot ‘em” as he disappeared into the parlour with his racing paper. It was unclear whether he meant the dogs or the owners, probably both. He had no time over for the people who lived on the estate.

I was at home for another week, a week dominated by the big silence. Nothing more was said, except “your tea’s on the table” and the like. The volume on the TV was turned up to cover up the silence.

To make matters worse I contacted a solicitor when I got back to university. I was so angry about the dog attack and my ruined trousers that I was determined to make the dog owner pay. Living on a student grant at the time I couldn’t afford new ones. The solicitor sent a letter to the owners, demanding compensation for the trousers. They sent a cheque.

Mum wrote a brief note a few days later:

Dear Eric
The neighbours are very upset with the police calling, and the letter from the solicitor.
I don’t know what’s got into you since you left home.
Love,
Mum & Dad

 

 

Counting Sheep

Walking along a deserted beach, sun still below the horizon, the clucking waves rinsed the coarse, wet sand from Jack’s feet. He was enjoying the solitude, listening to the whine of the wind through the palm trees.  It felt like a good life, but something was wrong. He woke with a start and opened one eye. Dog was standing at the foot of the bed, rough tongue licking the smooth soles of Jack’s feet. He pulled his legs in under the cover and wiped his feet on the sheet. Dog moved closer and whined again, head cocked to one side, looking at Jack with his big brown eyes.

“You want to go out?” asked Jack with a groan. At the word “out” dog started wagging his tail, gave a quick bark and then ran for the stairs. Jack knew Dog would now be sitting by the front door, waiting. There was no escape.  Jack reached for his working clothes, parked on a chair by the window, and glanced between the curtains. It was still dark but the moon was up. He leaned over and kissed the bare shoulder of the woman lying in his bed. She groaned with an unfamiliar voice and rolled over. He never did catch her name.

The regular thudding of a tail against the wooden floorboards in the hall told him that Dog was getting impatient. Jack padded quickly down the stairs and climbed into his leather working boots, shrugged on a warm jacket and grabbed a short leather leash, expecting a quick walk in the dark and then back to a warm bed.

Dog was sitting with his nose up against the front door, eager to get out. Jack opened the door and reached for the long rope hanging on a hook nearby.  Dog bolted through the door, almost pulling Jack over. The sudden jerk woke him up and Jack had a gut feeling that it could be a long night.

The tall birches and pines which sheltered Jack’s cottage were outlined by sharp black contours from the new moon. The night sky was like a dark blue blanket, sprinkled with star dust. Jack liked to stand and watch the night sky, but Dog had other interests. He was a tracker, born to sniff, switching from one side of the narrow path to the other, hoovering up the scents of the night. Nose down, pulling hard, heading for his favourite spot. Jack followed. The path skirted a stand of old oaks with gnarled trunks, surrounded by a carpet of dried acorns which crunched underfoot. A good sign, thought Jack, no wild boars around. Here Dog chose to lift his leg for a long, overdue pee. Jack joined him.

The night was still, clear, just a dusting of frost on the tips of the grass. Why not make for the fields, thought Jack, who realised he was in no great hurry to get back to his bed mate. Hopefully she would be gone before they got back. He liked eating breakfast alone, alone that is except for Dog.

The dirt path snaked downwards, leaving behind the oaks and a few scrubby pines on the ridge. Dog flexed his shoulder and haunch muscles, pulling hard on the leash, knowing where they were headed. Jack jerked to slow him down, not wanting to shout and disturb the silence of the night. The temperature felt a few degrees colder when they arrived at the edge of low-lying fields. Here it was always cold and misty, a legacy from the time when this had been an inlet of the Baltic Sea, later a wide lake, now fertile land used for growing Lucerne to make winter silage for the cattle which roamed here. The second harvest was already knee-high, like a dense green carpet,  purple flowers rimmed with silver frost which glistened in the yellow moonlight.

Jack switched from the leash to a long rope, allowing Dog to run loose. Instead Dog froze and growled, trying  to catch a scent. But it was only the mist swirling across the open fields, flying around like ghostly figures . Jack hissed. Dog remained tense and wary but did as he was told. “Off you go now”, said Jack reassuringly, and Dog shot away, nose down, zig-zagging across the field, following the scent left behind by the deer. Jack followed, stumbling through the wet Lucerne which clung to his boots like seaweed.

Dog was happy, running free, stopping every so often to roll over on his back, legs pumping up and down, ending with a quick shake before running off again. So was Jack, happy, if you had asked him. They were moving south, following the banks of the narrow stream which wandered lazily across the fields, water muddy after heavy rain.  It was quiet, only sound coming from the metal links on Dog’s harness. Jack relaxed, feeling free himself, enjoying the night sky. A sudden low growl interrupted his thoughts. Maybe a deer or something out there, down by the stream where the mist was solid as a whitewashed wall. Jack called Dog in and they both crouched down, listening intensely. Jack strangled the sign of another low growl by quickly taking a firm grip on Dog’s neck, burrowing his cold hands into the thick warm fur. Dog was now panting rapidly with excitement.

Through the mist they could hear some sheep bleating, distressed. Jack knew that neighbours Frank and Della had lost some of their sheep recently, including a breeding ram. He stroked Dog slowly to calm him down, switched to a tight short leash and then they  made their way slowly in the direction of the sheep enclosure. Dog seemed to understand that he was to keep quiet and stay close, but the hairs on his neck were on end, and his tail stood right up.  Dog’s instinct was to chase anything that moved. Jack worked hard to keep him under control.

The enclosure lay on the far side of the stream, below a wooded hill. Jack and Dog crossed over by a narrow wooden footbridge and soon came to the fence. Following the fence they reached the wide gates. They were wide open. The bleating got louder as the sheep heard them coming. Through the mist Jack could see dark shapes milling around. Dog growled again, which didn’t help. Jack silenced him with a sharp tug on the leash.

The sheep had scattered over the fields along the southern bank of the stream. Jack realised he had no chance of rounding them up alone. Dog was not a sheepdog, and anyway he was too worked up to be useful. Better go and knock up Frank, thought Jack. Frank and Della lived almost a kilometre away, house and barn tucked away on higher ground over the hill. Jack and Dog made their way up there, trying not to scare any more sheep on the way. In the distance Jack heard the muffled sound of a truck, maybe a pickup, and stopped to listen. Dog didn’t react, he wasn’t interested in that kind of sound. Through the mist Jack glimpsed a single tail-light, the other one was missing.

Dog pulled hard as they approached the darkened house. He could smell Frank’s two border collies. They were sheepdogs and lived in the barn, not in the house. They must have sensed Dog too, Jack thought, but he didn’t hear a single woof. Dog wanted to play when he met other dogs, but these two always ignored him. Sheepdogs don’t play.

Jack knocked on the door, calling out “Frank! It’s me, Jack. Sheep got out.” He saw an upstairs light come on and then heard the scraping of a window catch. Della appeared at the window: “Oh it’s you Jack. Bit early. What’s up?”

“Where’s Frank, Della? Sheep all over, down by the stream.”

“He’s …… gone, .. ..he’s not here. Wait a bit, I’ll be down.”

A  minute or two later she came striding out of the front door, in working gear, cheeks a little flushed and dark hair collected roughly under a cap.

“Oh I see, you and Dog out walking at this time o’ night!! Couldn’t sleep?” she asked, too cheerful at this hour for Jack’s liking.

Dog wagged his tail energetically on hearing Della’s voice, and jumped up to lick her face. She pushed him down, he had to make do with her hands.

“Something like that. Good night for a long walk, beautiful sky.”

“Lucky for us.”

“Yepp, heard ‘em from way over the fields.”

“Let’s get to it then, I’ll fetch the dogs” said Della in her business-like voice. She marched off towards the barn, letting out a sharp low whistle and the two sheepdogs came running. Dog jumped about, excited, but the sheepdogs remained quite aloof, as usual, waiting for instructions.

“Did you see anyone out there Jack?” Della asked, as they hurried down to the fields.

“No, but did hear a truck, pickup on the old dirt road. Missing a tail light too.”

“You know we’ve lost some animals these last few weeks.”

“I heard” said Jack, pulling hard to stop Dog running after the sheepdogs.

“Heel!” she ordered, keeping them close.

The mist was still lying thick over the fields when they reached the enclosure. “Not easy to find white sheep in this stuff”, laughed Della in her deep voice. Jack didn’t respond, busy wondering where Frank had got to. Jack knew him well, had worked for him, but didn’t really know Della.  She obviously felt uneasy too as they stood there together by the gate. Jack bent down to calm Dog and finally broke the silence:

“How do you want to run this, Della?” He liked using her name.

“Collect them in smaller groups then drive them here. You man the gates. Let them through one at a time, and don’t forget to count them! Have to check if we have lost any more.”

“Sounds like a long night” said Jack, pretending to yawn.

“D’you think? Don’t you go falling asleep” laughed Della again and melted into the mist, sheepdogs close behind.

“Here Dog, can’t have you chasing the sheep. No such fun” said Jack as he tied Dog’s leash firmly to a birch tree at a safe distance from the gate. “Stay” said Jack. Dog looked badly done to, but resigned and lay down to rest.

The Gates

Jack studied the gates closely, trying to work out how he could let the sheep pass into the enclosure and count them at the same time. He unfastened the chain which held the gates together and opened them inwards. The only way of doing it was to keep the left-hand gate closed and open the right one, making a small gap for the sheep to squeeze through, one at a time. Easy!

Jack could hear Della’s voice from the fields, giving orders to the sheepdogs. He was impressed by how confident she was at handling them. Before he had only seen Frank running sheep. After about ten minutes he heard the first group of sheep coming towards him,  quickly, driven by the dogs. He thought it sounded as though there could be about twenty of them. Dog heard them too. He was jumping, straining on the leash and barking as the sheep got closer. “Quiet”, shouted Jack, but it didn’t carry above the din. Dog was all worked up.

Della shouted too: “Ready now Jack, get counting!” The sheep were eager to get into the enclosure, where they felt safe. Suddenly they were up against the gates, pressing forward like a football crowd. Jack put all his weight behind the gates to stop them breaking through. They were bleating loudly, agitated, dogs driving behind and gates stuck together. “Let them in Jack, or we’ll lose them again!” shouted Della, coming out of the mist. Jack opened the right-hand gate to make a narrow gap for them to squeeze through, one by one. There was a lot of pushing and shoving as they made for the opening. “Easy, easy goes” shouted Jack but the sheep didn’t bother. He opened the gate just enough to be able to  grab  them by the neck and pull them inside. Bracing all his weight against the gates he almost forgot to count them. It came to seventeen in all, before he could lean against the gates for a rest, gloves greasy from the wet sheep. Della came up to check how Jack was doing. “How many?” “Seventeen” said Jack, breathing heavily, “That all?” “Should be ‘bout another hundred. Can you cope?” “Never learned to count that far!” “Time you did then,” said Della cheerfully, running off to round up the next bunch.

It took nearly two hours before all the sheep were safely inside the enclosure. “How many Jack” asked Della, as they leaned together against the gates again, exhausted. “Hundred and fifteen.“ “Two missing then”, said Della, hair now hanging loose and cheeks rosy from driving the sheep. “Nothing we can do about them now. Let’s go home.” By home she meant her place.

They walked back over the hill on tired legs, quiet, all except Dog. He tried to get the sheepdogs interested in playing, but had no luck. Aloof, they just ignored him, eager to get back to sleep in their barn.

“Thanks Jack” said Della as they neared the house. “Glad to help out”, said Jack, looking straight at Della, “you’re good at running the dogs.” She smiled briefly, pleased with herself. “Want to come in, join me for breakfast? Tastes better with company.”  He hesitated, still uncertain with Frank not at home. She opened the door and Dog rushed in, Della close behind “Come on in Jack, it’s warmer inside.” He smiled to himself and closed the door firmly behind.