We concluded our last year of Junior School with a class trip to Normandy, France. We arrived home very late one evening and I remember mum meeting the coach at the school. As we walked home, she told me there was a surprise waiting for me…
And there you were, engulfed in what seemed like a giant basket, in the lounge. You ran over, tail wagging furiously, legs splaying like a baby giraffe and I picked you up. Dad said I could call you Blackie or Patch, but the flash of white on your chest was the decider. And we were inseparable pals from that moment on…
I remember your incessant barking and relentless jumping up and down on your hind legs whenever we had visitors: Springheel Jack, mum used to call you. And you never did learn to walk properly on your lead, half-choking yourself to death as we headed towards the Downs. But, once released, you were away – running and chasing like the wind. But, although you were the friendliest thing on four legs to any human, woe betide any other canine who approached: you were fearless, vicious even. I once had to prise you from the neck of a Great Dane who you’d managed to reduce to a tremoring wreck!
You took a shine to our little tortoise, Bonzo, you would scoop him up and walk round the garden with him in your mouth. And you were a great companion for dad, especially in his later years, as his health deteriorated so badly.
One fateful day I came home to find mum making an abortive effort to move the fridge. I remember later writing the story of the incident and, in reverence to the great man, embellishing the truth in Spike Milligan style. I reproduce it below:
“What on Earth are you doing?” I enquired.
“This hasn’t been moved or ages” mum grunted, “it must be filthy behind here. It needs a good old clean.”
I have her a hand, followed by a foot and the lobe of my left ear. It was an old appliance, about three times the size of Eastbourne and about as exciting. We tugged and pushed, kicked and cussed then, all of a sudden, it became free. The momentum sent mum flying and she landed with a dull thud in Patch’s basket. I immediately offered her a Bonio. She offered me a smack round the head. I hauled her out and dusted her off. In the interim, Patch was padding gingerly through the dust to explore.
“Come out of there!” I yelled, trying to shoo him off. But it was too late. He’d spotted one of dad’s breathing tablets which he must have dropped there and made a bolt for it. While he was at it, he made a pair of wire cutters and a Philips screwdriver as well. He snaffled up the wretched pill with his tongue. I dived on top of him and got him in a headlock for a count of three. Forcing his jaws apart, I squinted down his throat. Nothing. I stuck my fingers down the dark, slimy void but the stupid animal only bit me.
“What shall we do?” panicked mum.
“How about a game of Scrabble?” I suggested, rubbing my hand.
“Don’t be stupid” she retorted, “he could die.”
“Is Scrabble that dangerous?”
She ignored me.
“Perhaps we should call the vet” she murmured, now also peering hopefully in to the recesses of Patch’s gullet.
“Why, does he like Scrabble?”
“Oh, shut up, Simon!”
“Let’s leave it a while and see what happens” I counselled, “that tablet has probably been under there for months, it might have lost some of its oomph by now.”
We waited, staring at Patch and following his every move. He wasn’t showing any obvious signs of discomfort. After half an hour – and having finally reaching the age of 65 – he retired to his basket. Mum and I adjourned to the lounge.
Forty-five minutes later, I suddenly remembered him. I leapt off the settee and made for the kitchen. There he was, standing, legs outstretched and rigid, as if gripping the lino with his claws. His breathing had reached an incredible rate, and his eyes looked like he’d just received the four-minute warning. He began to wobble around and develop the shakes, then crashed abruptly to the floor, legs still rigid. His heart was going Thump! Thump! Thump! on the lino and he showed the whites of his eyes. Then, almost immediately, he threw up. Isn’t it amazing how dogs regurgitate their food in exactly the same state as when they consumed it?
“I’ll clear that up and put some cling-film over it for tomorrow” I remarked.
After a while, the vomiting seemed to have the desired effect and Patch was able to find his feet. Eventually, we traced them to the cupboard under the sink. His struggles took three attempts before success was achieved. After a further delay of twenty minutes, he was as right as rain.
I never did get to play Scrabble.
What I remember most fondly about you is that that you were always there, always keen to play, or to go for a walk, or just to be stroked, or to do nothing at all. When you developed a tumour it was heart-breaking. At the last – on December 18, 1985 – I had to take you to the vets to be put down. You sat in the back of the car, rested your head on the top of the back seat and peered out through the rear window as we climbed the hill out of Mile Oak. I knew you knew.
Thank you, old pal, for all those happy, happy days.