Back in the day, I had a girlfriend who was the daughter of an army veterinary officer and her name was Margo. More recently I had a client who worked for one of the big insurance companies who was also called Margo …. but when my daughter announced she was going to name her new American Labrador puppy Margo too, with a ‘T’ or not I wasn’t sure, I wondered whether she should have been called Mango because she was of that colour. I thought, incidentally, that Margo was the surrogate child …. until Jade became pregnant and Theo arrived ….. and Margo stayed.
I lost the argument about her name and Margo she stayed. That was 24 months ago and she has grown into a handsome, well behaved dog, so congratulations are due to my daughter for her patient training that has paid off in spades. Mind you Margo lives in a house with three children under 7 and two cats, so she had to be adaptable and not a pain in the arse!
After Easter Margo stayed with us here in Hove for ten days and I was reminded of the two other dogs I’ve had. While I was at university I took the decision to have a dog; after all, a three year residential course represented unusual stability in an ubiquitous Army career and, with parental agreement to look after her if I was posted overseas, I got a Boxer.
At the beginning of 1967 the second BBC television channel showed a drama called The Forsyte Saga on Saturday evenings, with a wonderful cast that included Susan Hampshire, Nyree Dawn Porter, Kenneth More and Margaret Tyzack. At the time there were not many television sets capable of receiving BBC2, which used the latest 625–line broadcasting system (cf 405 lines), so it was repeated on Sunday evenings eighteen months later when coverage had improved significantly. It was the last major British serial made in black & white and was compulsory viewing! Hard to believe, but evening Church services were rescheduled and pubs emptied as everyone sat before their TV sets …. and became hooked on the storylines. Susan Hampshire played Fleur …….. and this is a long-winded explanation as to why I called my boxer Fleur when she came into my life in 1969. Coincidentally my ex-sister-in-law, who lives just north of Seattle, is also called Fleur. The Boxer breed is well known for being highly strung and Fleur, a lightweight, slim dog, was one such. Sadly she died aged 7 but I would like to think she had a fun life; she certainly gave a lot of love.
Wind the clock forward twenty five years and in 2002 I got Tom, my beautiful black Labrador, through Labrador Rescue. The decision to get another dog was prompted by the death of my nephew William at the age of 18 from cancer. That ‘Why put off something you want to do, especially as ‘life’ is full of uncertainties?’ question ……. and the answer was Tom. A gentle giant if ever there was one; what he lacked in brain power he made up for with love and affection in spades. His walks were either around the streets in Battersea or across Wandsworth Common, an area of 70 hectares/170 acres of grass, trees, lakes and wild life which lay at the top of the road some 200m away from home. Walking there daily kept me aware of nature’s death and decay, of new birth and new growth, the changing seasons and all that they bring. Tom of course loved the ‘death’ bit and was good at ferreting out a decaying fox’s carcass!! Yuk.
He moved with us to Hove in 2012. The apartment leasehold building has a ‘no pet’ clause so we had to get permission from the landlord to have him, on the basis that he would not be around too much longer. If you are a pet owner you will recognise that awful moment when you realise that their life has become one of discomfort and it’s their time to go. Unless of course it’s a goldfish! That was six years ago and so when Margo came all these memories came flooding back.
We are reminded of the routines involved with owning a pet with Margo and it’s amazing how quickly we get into the early morning walk, the lunchtime wee, the afternoon long walk and ball games and the evening last-thing-at-night wander around the streets. Our jacket pockets become full of plastic poo bags, antiseptic gel and treats. We buy a stuffed material duck that lasts about one day before its capok has been ripped out; we go to the charity shop for a cheaper replacement. Tom never got into ripping his toys; funny how dogs can be so different. Margo will not pee on the concrete pavements so the grass of Hove Lawns becomes her first stop. Then it’s onto the pebble beach to poo. Without going into too much description of similar colours etc, could you find a dog deposit on a beach such as this?
One morning I looked, and looked ….. and then prayed that the rising tide would come soon!! And I have noticed there seems to have been an increase in ‘negative’ council by-law signs: “Dogs on leads!!” “No Cycling!” “No dogs on beach 1st May – 30 September” “No BBQs on this beach” “Respect the ‘shared space’” and all that inclusive politically correct wording. Sometimes I just want to see a sign which simply says “Enjoy Yourself”!!
Funny how walking a dog ensures strangers smile, pass the time of day, acknowledge you in a way that sans chien would never happen. And whilst Wandsworth was inland, here on the coast I’m very conscious of high and low water times and the consequent size of the beach. During Margo’s time with us we had the second blue moon in a month, with the tidal difference over 6 metres.
And then she went home to her owners, the two cats and three young boys, and all she left, apart from her memories, were tufts of ginger hair in odd places and that faint whiff of damp dog. Lovely having another living creature with one.
Richard 21st April 2018
PS I am actually not sure whether Margo is a Labrador, American or not! Every Labrador I know will devour their food faster than you can say Jeremy Corbyn; Tom would take about 47 seconds to get through 300g of dried food. Margo, on the other hand, would always leave some in her bowl so she could snack throughout the day. Strange huh!