Monday, April 25, 2016

Dogs (and other Pets)

We always had dogs when I was a child. My father had greyhounds, although I don't really think they'd be classed as 'pets' as such. They lived in their own kennels and there was a run for them in the garden at Malting Farm. Some were put into greyhound races, but others were used for coursing. I know it's not considered 'P.C.' (Politically Correct) and hunting with dogs is now illegal, that is still what they were basically used for. I'm not going to get into a discussion on the rights or wrongs of it in this post, although in some sense, in the early part of the 21st Century, perhaps it's a good thing that we don't continue with such things, but I'm not convinced one way or the other. One of the dogs won some race, it may have been at the White City Stadium in London, back in the early 1960's, because he had a large trophy which sat on the sideboard in the lounge at Malting Farm, which was the prize for this race. I'm not sure whether there was any money involved. Dad was a greyhound trainer, which is one reason the greyhounds were kept in separate accommodation. There were several litters of puppies born at Malting Farm, and the dogs made exceptionally good mothers. Contrary to what you believe about greyhounds they are very affectionate and do make good pets and I know people re-home retired greyhounds. One, in particular, called Ben, who became a stud dog, was often bought into the house and made a fuss of, but unfortunately he was poisoned during one event, I think the Waterloo Cup, which was held every year in Lancashire (now no more since 'hunting with dogs' is illegal.) Although you must not call greyhounds 'dogs.' I don't know what the outcome of the poor animal who was poisoned, whether the culprit was found or whether the police were involved. I think the poison was paraquat or some sort of poison used to keep down weeds.

Being a farm, there were always labradors around, usually black. Beautiful creatures used to retrieve game during shooting expeditions and the annual 'shoot', which was quite a big event, culminating in a large meal, provided by my mother and comprised of quite an elaborate meal in the dining room at Malting Farm. Later, my brother Andrew had a black-and-white Cocker spaniel, called Pippa, who came from a litter produced by a bitch owned by my Kendall cousins who lived at Eyeworth, near Sandy. Pippa was a sweet-natured little dog, who always went around with a wagging tail. We went to Fronton-On-Sea for summer holidays as well as to Brightlingsea, a little further down the Essex coast, where my father had a sailing boat called 'Flashpoint' on which we occasionally stayed. The boat was moored in the Colne estuary, and to get to it you had to use a small rubber boat or 'tender.' Trying to get out to the yacht with a load of shopping as well as Pippa was quite an ordeal. She had a tendency to always want to swim, which is what all spaniels seem to love. But on one particular occasion, she decided that she couldn't be contained on board ship for too long and took off by jumping in. But, as there was a  strong tide in the Colne estuary, she got caught in a song current which means she could possibly get back to the yacht. So we had to get in the tender and row after her in order to rescue her, otherwise, she would have been lost and possibly drowned. Even though she was a strong swimmer, she couldn't swim fast enough against the rapidly ebbing tide and would have been swept out to sea, never to be seen again. On the beach at Fronton, Pippa would enjoy the sea, and it was quite difficult to keep her out of the water. Her one abiding passion was chasing things, which is what a Cocker excels at, along with swimming. It was at a time when Frisbees were all the fashion, but if anyone was seen playing with one, usually someone or other of our family or friends, or complete strangers, merely throwing the things between one another, Pippa had the idea that the Frisbee was being thrown for her entertainment, and if the thing landed, she would run and pick it up and play with it herself, which could be quite embarrassing, particularly as she had a tendency to chew the things.

My brother James had a couple of black labradors. One I think was called Flon. She had a tendency to run off. As a child, I seem to remember another black labrador called Sorrel. I don't remember much about this dog. We had small Jack Russel Terriers in the 1960 and 70s. We had a small, tan and white terrier which had a wiry coat and called Honey. Unfortunately, it died. I think Dad took it to show the greyhounds and one barked and it scared the poor little pup to death. Sad. A really sweet little dog. I think she came from family friends who lived in Carlton, whose dog had puppies. Then Dad got another little Jack Russel, small, black and white and with an undershot jaw. Funny how you remember these things. She was called Spike. I don't know why. I think it was because her tail was like a spike. Then we got a second dog, a bit bigger than Spike, who got called Milligan, after the Goon's writer and comedian. I think it seemed an obvious name, come to think of it. He was black and white with tan markings, on his face and legs. He took to me and pined when I went to school. He used to sleep on my bed and followed me around like a shadow. Unfortunately, he rather liked the neighbour's chickens. I think he might have chased a few and killed them. Then he wasn't around anymore. I don't know what happened to him. Went to a new home, away from chickens. I was quite upset, as you can imagine. Then, a few years later another dog came into our lives, another Jack Russell Terrier. She was called Lucy. She had a problem with her skin. She got an allergic reaction to flea bites and her skin came out in a horrible load of sores. She was small, and to relieve the itching caused by the sores she rubbed herself underneath the armchairs in the lounge and made the sores bleed. Poor little thing. She had a sort of epileptic fit one evening when she was let out into the garden. It was quite distressing to see this, laying on her pack, with her legs shaking. She came out of it a few minutes later, but I thought she was going to die. I just think she was prone to have an odd sort of metabolism or something, which meant her heart raced at too high a level, which was what caused the epileptic fit.

Another dog we had, probably a good deal earlier, was a dachshund, called Chippy. He was light brown with white markings. He was very like a sausage (I know, dachshunds are often called 'Sausage Dogs.) and called Chipolata, hence, Chippy for short. He loved music, or so he seemed to, because if you were to play a mouth-organ (or harmonica) he would howl along. It was very amusing. He got his tail, which was very long for such a little dog, and got caught in the rear door when my mother had a Hillman Husky, which had a rear door which was operated by a lever on the car's dashboard. How on earth his tail got caught in the door when it got shot I really don't know, but as a result, the end of his tail had about half an inch missing. It never recovered and ended in a rather abrupt tip and the hair never grew back.
So, now Carol and I have two dogs, as you will know if you have been reading my posts on here over the years. The oldest one, Poppy, is a Shitsu-West Highland Terrier cross. She has a stubborn streak and does what she wants, particularly when we take her out for a walk, and you have to put her back on her lead and she runs off and won't return. When I first met her, at Carol's house in Crownhill (a good ten years ago now.) she was so excited to meet me that she weed on my leg! Take her anywhere with water, such as a lake or river, and before you know it, she'll be in and swimming.
The other dog we have is Alfie, who is a Yorkshire Terrier. A faithful little dog, who took to me very early on and follows me around the house like a shadow. He's even-tempered and has a lot of courage, especially when we're out walking and he comes across far larger dogs. He hates cats and if one comes into our garden he barks loudly. Both dogs sleep on our bed at night, but disturb Alfie at your peril and he will growl to warn you off. He doesn't like being disturbed and falls asleep at the merest opportunity.

My brother Robert was keen on horses. We had a pony called Meg from quite early on and Andrew had a couple of ponies, one called Whiskey, a black and white pony as well as a white one whose name I forget. My younger brother, Sandy, used to go to gymkhanas around Bedfordshire and take part in the various events and got quite good at it. I'm not sure these are still going, but there used to be an annual one at Clapham as well as the Young Farmers' rally at Silsoe. My grandmother Ferriman was President or something for several years. I do recall, from quite an early age, being taken to these events, even though I never took part. I did ride, occasionally, but what put me off was all the mucking out and tack cleaning which went with caring for horses. The fact that I was kicked by one of the horses and then bitten by another, quite badly, in the fleshy part of my arm, might have something to do with it, as well as being on one of the ponies which bolted with me on board and nearly going through a five-bar gate has definitely got something to do with it!

I'm fairly certain we had other pets. A budgerigar, which I seem to remember lived in a cage in the kitchen at Malting Farm. Whether it was male or female I have no idea. There was a tortoise, but it lived in the garden and wandered as tortoises do and was rarely seen, no doubt hiding away amidst the flowers and other plants, but was rarely seen. Which makes me wonder how it ever survived winter. No doubt it hibernated somewhere or other. One of my brothers, Robert perhaps, had a fish in a tank, and I think it was in his bedroom, but whether it survived I can't recall. That is all I can remember of any pets we had as children. Growing up on a farm there were always animals, such as cows and pigs (I don't actually think there were pigs at Malting Farm. The Porter's, who lived next door, had a pig unit, and there were some at Mill Farm, my grandfather's farm. Sheep didn't come onto the farm until my eldest brothers took over when my father retired in the 1970's. We were never allowed to become to attached or over sentimental with any of the animals, although we sometimes reared some of them, such as bucket-feeding calves. They were all treated with respect and had good lives.  And my mother had chickens and we had chicks which were hatched somewhere or other and put in a deep litter house and laid eggs which were sold.
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