Friday, September 10, 2010

The Day...A Dog in My Life

A Dog in my life

Scottie, a black and white knee-high Heinz-57 variety terrier, was the first dog I truly related to.
His owner was Malcolm Lakin, a school friend from private school days, when we were both in short pants the first time around. His ‘Master’ was Min (Mrs. L) who wielded the frying pan and pots on the stove of their house-cum-bed and breakfast home two blocks from the seafront in Eastbourne, shortly after WWII.
Mrs. L took care of the eating end of Scottie, I seemed to end up at the wrong end cleaning up his mess, and Malcolm got to romp and throw ball at, or to, his pet.
Malc, Scottie and I were virtually inseparable through the pre-acne years. We’d explore the neighborhood, and all its back-alleys and shortcuts, scour the beaches at high and low tide rummaging through the flotsam and jetsam seeking treasures, salvage, or driftwood, to turn into swords, dud or live mines to throw stones at, anything to liven up playtime.
One of our favorite haunts was the barricaded and barbed-wire protected Redoubt, a prominent pile of masonry marking the eastern end of the esplanade which ranged from the foot of the South Downs from Holywell for three miles. Originally erected to deter Napoleon’s ambitions to conquer England across the Channel, it had been re-fortified against the next dictator with ambitions, Hitler, during WWII.
There was only one ‘official’ way into the Redoubt, across a wooden bridge spanning the 20-foot-deep dry-moat to the fortified double gates.
Malc and I discovered a couple of other ways in, clambering down the side of the moat using a combination of driftwood and ‘liberated’ lumber from bombed sites as a makeshift ladder down to the floor of the moat. We were of a size (smallness) to be able to slip through a slit in the solid-brick walls of the Redoubt, and gain access.
The interior of the circular building was segmented like a cross-section of an orange; each connected, but able to be defended and separated from its neighbor. The core of the structure was open ground, with a water-well near the center. Above each of the arched ceilings of the segments were gun emplacements – no guns – facing openings in the battlements.
We knew the layout intimately; found the ‘secret’ opening into the storage area of the Town Council’s deck-chair storage center, brass cartridge cases and general ‘stuff’ we’d turn into impromptu guns, rifles and/or swords – depending on the ‘game du jour’.
Scottie, unable and unwilling, to scale our make-shift ladder scaffolding, would bark for a while then take off on his own explorations. I think it was about that time he discovered how to ride the town buses. He’d spot a queue near a bus-stop, sit patiently while people fussed over him, then hop on board with the throng. At first bus-conductors assumed he was with one of the two-legged passengers. When they found he was free-loading, they’d chuck him off. He always found his way home.
After a while just about every bus-driver on all the routes in town knew Scottie; and would allow him to hang out with them.
One day, while Scottie was off exploring, we heard a dog barking from OUR moat.
We peered down and spotted a hefty dog yelping at the foot of our ladder. The dog was as big and heavy as either one of us. No way could we haul the bugger up – even if he’d let us without taking a chunk out of us.
We couldn’t leave it there – and we couldn’t go to our favorite playground while it was still down there. Pensioners patrolling the promenade began to take notice of us. It wouldn’t be long before some nosey-parker made their way over to the noise and commotion and discovered our ladder.
“Hang on here, I’ll go an get the police” I told Malcolm. He wasn’t too thrilled. “Rummage around to find some stuff to add to the ladder. We’ll tell ‘em we just built it to rescue the dog.”
He gave me a sort of look which was repeated several times, that day, as first the police, then the RSPCA people heard my story before mounting a rescue effort.
They took our names and addresses, filled in a report, demolished our access to the moat, and warned us off the property.
At least we didn’t end up in jail.
But a week or so later we both received an Official-looking letter in the mail, commanding us to appear at the Town Hall, such and such a date and hour…”pursuant to the incident which occurred…”
We anticipated everything from being sentenced to Borstal School for (BAD) Boys, to a caning in front of our respective schools, based on the contents of the summons.
Dressed in our best, we showed up at the right place, at the right time. Only to find we had been named ‘Little Heroes’ for coming to the aide of the trapped dog, were made honorary members of the RSPCA and (begrudgingly) presented with a Certificate and half-a-crown each by the Police Chief.
We couldn’t wait to rush away from officialdom and find a way to spend our reward.
Hambley’s the Toy Store facing the railway station, had lots of things for sale.
But, of course, the one thing we had to have, couldn’t possibly live without, was twice as much as we could afford. For one each, anyway. It was a Complete Sherlock Holmes Detecting Outfit, complete with Large Magnifying Glass, Fingerprint Dust, and Invisible Ink for Secret Letters. They were five-shillings each. Our total life-savings! We couldn’t possibly exist with just ONE between us; the fights would have been terrific – and how could we exchange ‘secret letters written in Invisible Ink’ when only one of us had the liquid solution.
Right next door to the toy shop was the Swiss Chalet café. The aroma of baked coffee beans, and fresh-brewed coffee, wafted across the nose-twitching heads of crowds who tried to by-pass the temptation. Coffee held no allure to us, barely old enough to drink tea; but the sight of sticky buns, cream-filled éclairs, and sugar-sprinkled strawberry-jam swiss-rolls, was a sure-fire magnet.
While we drank our lemonade, and scoffed up the crumbs from the plate of confections placed before us, we discussed ways and means to buy those detecting outfits. Two tweedy ladies, seated nearby, seemed to get a good deal of amusement out of our eating habits; grasp doughnut, point at mouth, shove, swallow. It gave me an idea.
“Yelp out and start to cry when I kick you.”
Wide-eyed, Malcolm could not respond or question the instruction with a full mouth, before I kicked his ankle under the table.
I thought he’d choke. Guess the fodder went down the wrong way. He got awfully red in the face, his nose started running and his eyes flooded with tears.
One of the tweedy ladies flew from her seat, gave him a hefty slap on the back, and glared down at me.
“What did you do that for?” she demanded of me.
“It’s his fault. He’s lost our Reward Money for saving a dog and now we can’t pay for the feast….” I tailed off as I realized all heads in the strictly adult community had turned toward us, ears perked, whisperings mounting as the bush-telegraph reverberated around the crowded café.
In a jumble of words, back slapping, coughing, sneezing, up-raised voices, flashing of the RSPC Certificate, the tale of heroic Rescue – followed by the loss of our Reward, and suddenly six-pences were being tossed onto the table from all directions. Our fortunes had turned.
By the time we left the Swiss Chalet, we couldn’t face another donated éclair, sticky bun or jam-roll for weeks afterwards. Our pockets jingled with donations, our bill had been paid – and we sped like bullets next door to the toy shop to buy the coveted Detective Outfits.
We were unwrapping the contents of the packages, discussing whose fingerprints we would first take, when the repeated sound of a familiar bark overpowered the curt comments of adults rushing for busses and trains as they brushed past us.
We both looked at each other, then at the buses lined up alongside the railway station. There was Scottie, yelping at us to join him, while holding the bus-conductor at bay from ringing the bell to send the bus on its way.
Mostly, a true story!

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