Early Character Lessons

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Sep 17th, 2012
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I am an only child. I mention this purely in the spirit that what follows may not make a whole heap of sense to those who come from large human (and I stress ‘human’) families. When I was born, my parents already had a fur-child. Pepper, the psycho Dalmation.

Of course back then, fur-children were not called fur-children.

Pepper was Dad’s dog. Had been so since my mother bought him home, he battled his way up the stairs into the flat my parents were living in at the time and plonked himself at Dad’s feet. Dad peered over his newspaper at this spotty apparition and said “I had better take him for a walk.”

At some point in the three years following my birth, my parents decided that the dalmation was too big to be a playmate for me, so I could do with something smaller.

My father did his best, but allowing my mother loose with cash was always a bad idea. One afternoon she arrived home with this white, fluffy puppy under one arm and several apologetic excuses for Dad. Not the least the enormous vet bill which was about to arrive due to the fact that ‘Rudi’ had something wrong with his leg. “But he’ll be a wonderful pet for Sarah.”

Rudolf. Sealyham terrier. Sex-crazed, nextdoor’s-dustbins-violating, fang monster. A wonderful pet.

Fighter, thief, adventurer, romancer of other breeds (regardless of size), escapologist and (in many ways) the other half of myself.

When friends wonder why I am the way I am, I should also point to the little devil that for 19 years was the personification of trouble, but with the huge personality that belied his size.

Terriers are temperamental, they can be very aggressive, and size does not enter into it. If it was bigger than him, Rudi wanted to fight with it. He picked fights with boxers, labradors, alsations, a myriad of bitsers and despite barely reaching their stomachs, he usually won.

Pepper was poop-scared of him. If Rudi wanted to be in a room, and Pepper was already in it, Rudi would menace him until he left in a hurry. The evil fang-monster would circle, growling, his little stump of a tail bent over stiff and vibrating with fury.

When I was very young, the most tiresome aspect of his character passed me by, but by the time I hit double figures I was well aware of the adventurous side of his nature. Rudi was a smallish dog, but he could squeeze through a knothole in the fence, and he would be off. Wenching and dustbinning were his stock in trade. I lost count of the number of times I would get up in the middle of the night because mother would let him out for his last constitutional and he would use the opportunity for a rapid flight after the ladies or visiting the neighbours’ dustbins.

His sins were many and lengthy, he stole from the table. Yes, he was too small to reach, but he could jump, and if you were foolish enough to leave wiggle room, he would get up on a chair and thence the table. He once devoured an entire Dundee cake (heavy fruit cake) because I forgot to shut the dining room door.

He loved to sleep on my grandmother’s bed. And woe betide if you tried to get him off. Although it had to be said that Gran didn’t mind, although he would start at the foot, and by morning he would be on the pillow next to her.

All things considered Rudi was not what one would normally describe as a resounding success. He was sex-crazed, dustbin-violating, fang-monster and he lived every inch of that title to its fullest extent. But he had heart and personality.

Being an only child, I invested a lot of myself into my pets. When I started to write, my early male characters were based on my dog. In many ways, this is still true. There’s a little of Rudi in all my male characters.

It’s kind of poignant this memory. It was this week, back in 1985, when after nineteen years of appalling behaviour, he finally hung up his spurs. For a dog who lived life to the full, and explored every possibility, no matter how vile, he simply went to sleep in his basket and didn’t wake up.

I buried him in the back garden. Near the fence. Scene of many of his breakouts. No doubt, if there is such a thing as doggy heaven, he’s working his way through eternity a little like one of the characters in The Great Escape. Rest easy little monster.


  • Mel

    Funny how our pets leave such fond tattoos on our souls. Lovely story, Sj.

    • Sj

      He was mine, he was a devil, a fiend, a pain in the patooty, but he was my pain in the patooty. He had puppies with a golden retriever. He had a smug expression, and probably a teeny step ladder hidden somewhere.

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