Archive for April, 2015

Smokey’s tale

April 1, 2015


(‘Are Smokey, ‘E wer a great dog’)

Those of us who have had our three score years and ten have seen many changes to society: the demise of back street boozers and there dinner time ‘dommy’ schools, illegal bookies, holiday’s in Blackpool, a pint o’ mixed, falling church attendances and the loss of suburban cinemas. When I think back to Friday dinner times in East Leeds in the 1940s/50s when folk had an hour to get their meal down and be back at work or school inside an hour the fish and chip shops could turn a queue of thirty round in the same time it takes now for a guy to make you a cup of espresso coffee!

But I digress this tale is about the demise of something vital to this tale: mongrel dogs. To own a dog in the 21st century is an expensive hobby, particularly the initial purchase cost, astronomical vet’s fees, insurance and kennel fees etc. So if folk are going to the expense of having a dog they usually go in for the breed of their choice or a designer dog bred from two pedigree lines. This aligned to dogs not being allowed to roam on their own and seek out their own partners has drastically cut the mongrel population. This obviously cuts down pavement fouling and nuisance and is generally a good thing. But you know mongrels are usually great, they are as tough as old boots and don’t normally have in bred diseases and neurotic hang ups. You get bits of all sorts ’Heinz 57 varieties’ they were nick named but diversity gives strength and you hardly ever had to take them to the vets and when you did it was just a coin in the box at the P.D.S.A. You opened your door on a morning and let the dog out and it just got on with the business of being a dog and how they enjoyed it! We had such a dog when I was a lad, I’ve had lovely pedigree dogs all my life but there was never a dog that could match the heart of that little mongrel. As you read this I imagine some may feel we were reckless with old Smokey’s safety but it was a different world then, we folk were products of our time and Smokey was no ordinary dog and I bet he had the best life a dog ever had. So please forgive us.


As Smokey was a dog and couldn’t write very well I’ll have to tell his tale myself. He arrived when I was about six or seven with just his head peeping out of my aunt’s coat and we had him right up to my national service call up. He came the same night as Hunslet feast, so it was double joy for me that day. I recall hitting my head on a lamppost on the way to that feast my mind was so full of that little dog. ‘Can we call him Smokey?’ I asked. Smokey it was and what a dog he turned out to be! The folk across the yard from us got a dog shortly after and called him Smokey too. Smokey must have been the ‘in’ name for dogs that year. It would be about 1945, the war was just about over; there had been a film about a horse called ‘Smokey that year and that was probably why it was such a popular name. It wasn’t a fantastic arrangement though for when you went to the door and called out for Smokey two dogs would appear. A natural compromise seemed to be reached when their dog became known as ‘Black Smokey’. Previously to Smokey’s arrival, I had always shared other people’s dogs. They would be waiting for me when I went out to play, I would throw stones for them and more or less just let them be with me. I was a ‘dog person’ and they knew it. He got off to a bad start, our Smokey. First, he caught the hairless part of his stomach on the hot flat iron, which had been standing in the fireplace and it burnt him badly. Then he contracted: worms, eczema, and distemper. The latter nearly caused his demise before he even got started. We took him to the PDSA on Dewsbury Road where they recommended he be ‘put down’ as he would never be properly right and never make anything of a dog now etc. My Aunt Edie said we would take him home and think about it. I was in tears so was my mate who had come along with us. But nobody had reckoned on the heart of that dog, he was only a little ginger mongrel with a bit of Irish terrier in him – but he had a heart like a lion. He pulled through on his own and I don’t think we ever had to take him to see the vet again in his long life and he turned out to be just about the best dog a lad ever had. Things have moved on a pace since the ‘forties, practices which were commonplace then would be frowned upon today. We lived in the semi-rural area of Knostrop and it was normal for folk to just open their doors and let a dog be about the business of being a dog. Free to roam though it has to be said our Smokey did develop a lot of bad habits, one of his worst was chasing cars, he would yap away at the front wheels, try as we could we were never able to properly break him of this; it’s a miracle he never got run over. And fighting, he’d fight anything up to goat size and he’d usually win, except for a bull terrier that lived down the road, he got a bloody nose more than once from him but he’d always go back for more. As if this wasn’t bad enough he took a dislike to people who wore black. This wasn’t wise of him for policemen wear black and so do the clergy. A lasting memory is of Father Tregear, curate at St Hilda’s Church, who stood six feet four and weighed in at nineteen stone, turning a circle in the middle of Knostrop Lane with Smokey swinging around three foot from the ground, his teeth clasped onto the hem of his cassock. He had to wear a muzzle for a while after that but he took it all in his stride and even continued to fight other dogs while he had it on. People would eye him sideways while he wore the muzzle, I suppose they must have thought he must be fierce, but he was nothing of the sort, he was great with kids and the best pal you could ever hope to have. If I pulled a face at him he’d go bananas, if I moved an inch he’d be on his feet. He did howl a bit when I was practising plying the clarinet, but that was a hoot for the rest of the family When we were on holiday from school he would go everywhere with us, woods, fields, ponds – if we were on bikes he would keep up with the bikes. In addition, he could perform every trick in the book on demand. If you threw a pebble for him amongst a pile of a million pebbles he’d come back to you with the correct one you had thrown. When we went back to school (St Hilda’s Cross Green Lane) after the holidays he couldn’t handle it and as soon as Mam let him out he would be off up to school where he would sit by my coat in the cloakroom, sometimes he would pull the coat onto the floor and lay on it. When the classroom door was opened he would be in and searching among the desks for me. At first, it was a novelty and the teacher had the class writing an essay on ‘Smokey’. Afterwards I had to stand at the front of the class for a question and answer session on him. I can remember the kids asking me all sorts of daft questions about him that kids do: like can he climb a ladder etc? The teacher, Miss Busby, told them not to be so silly. After a while the novelty wore off and he became a nuisance – he was disrupting the class and he got so he would guard the door and not let people in. It came to a head one day when he wouldn’t let the school inspector in and the teacher told me not to let him come anymore. So I had to ask Mam to keep him tied up during school hours, this kept his visits down but never stopped him completely and I’d get into a panic when he’d managed to escape by chewing through the rope or something and I’d feel his wet nose under the desk seeking me out. On these occasions now I would have to take him home, tearfully rebuking Mam for letting him free – but she couldn’t keep tabs on him all the time he was quicksilver, if no other avenue was available he’d even jump from a bedroom window into a flower bed as a last line of escape. We lived in an old rambling house with neither gas nor electricity and the toilet was a huge brick built thing out in the wild garden. I hated it on the few occasions I needed to use the toilet after being in bed. I had to feel my way down stairs without any light – I was not allowed to light a candle in case I burnt the house down, when I got into the kitchen I would try to coax Smokey out of his nice warm corner near the oven range to come with me, he wasn’t well pleased to be disturbed but he always came with me. I was in my phase of being scared of vampires and our dark garden and huge toilet seemed an ideal lair for them. On one occasion while I was seated in-situ Smokey gave a great howl and the hairs stood up on his back I was off like a shot I thought Dracula and all his mates were after me

smokey and me
(Remember to ‘click’ on pictures to enlarge)

If you met up with him outside there was no way of getting rid of him. He was a real lad for the ladies, so often he would stay out all night. Sometimes when he was returning from a night on the tiles he would meet a member of the family on their way to work, on these occasions he would cross over the road and look sheepish, he knew he was not supposed to stay out all night. Then he would latch onto the person and follow them at a respectable distance, no matter what you did you could not shake him off, and of course it was the norm for people to be too late to take him home again. You could throw stones for him to chase, you could throw stones at him, but you could not shake him off. If he was still with you when you arrived at the bus stop you were in deep trouble for buses were open at the back at the time and when the bus came there was nothing to stop him jumping on with you – bar the conductor of course, but generally they weren’t keen on trying. The remedy was to call him to you as if you were going to give him a stroke, then just as the bus was coming, you grabbed him, picked him up, he wasn’t very big, and dropped him over the adjacent vicarage wall. Then he would have to run around to the gate by which time you would hope to be on the bus and off. But he wasn’t beaten even then, he’d chase the bus to the next stop and if there were a few people waiting to board the bus he’d be on between the conductor’s legs. Then, believe it or not, you had to lose him amongst all the legs in the busy centre of Leeds. You would imagine that this would be a most reckless course of action requiring the aid of the RSPCA to find him for again for you and it surely would have been for any other dog I’ve ever come across but not our Smokey, he would just be a little later arriving home that morning and due for an even bigger telling off. He never, ever, became truly lost and far too smart to get captured and taken to the pound. His roaming was legendary; people would report seeing him all over the city of Leeds, even in the Quarry Hill flats, which were miles away from his home in Knostrop. He once turned up in my Aunt Doris’s shop in Becket Street, which was almost on the other side of the city and through an absolute warren of streets. Aunt Doris told of how this dog came into the shop and she had said to her sister, ‘Isn’t that dog like our Smokey?’ Upon hearing her voice he went potty, it was Smokey. At least he got to walk home with them on that occasion. The same problems arose if he caught up with you on the way to the cinema. If you threw a stone for him to try and be rid of him his pride made him follow it although he knew it was a ploy to lose him. Even if you made it into the queue, he would come and smell you out and should you make it into the cinema itself you still weren’t safe. One night he got into the Star Cinema on York Road, you could hear the commotion, voices complaining, ‘Who belongs to this ruddy dog? On such occasions you would keep quiet and hope he would eventually be ‘chucked out’ if he did, he would still be waiting for you when you came out at the end of the film. At about the age of thirteen we moved away from Knostrop and Smokey continued to live with my aunts. After that he made a regular shuttle service between the two houses carrying notes in his collar. The lad had one or two near squeaks in his eventful life: once he jumped into the filter beds at the sewerage works thinking they were solid ground, it was a good job I was on hand to lean over and pull him out. Another time someone unthinkingly threw a stone into the Sludge Lagoons at Skelton Grange Power Station: Smokey went after it as usual. The sludge lagoons were just a white crust covering the black sludgy water, anything which went in there didn’t come out again but the lad just managed to get back with the crust breaking up just a few inches behind him all the way back to safety. As I got older, new mates coming along quickly came to adore him – luxury home or park bench he didn’t care where as long as he could be with you and it would be him you’d want along too. He managed to avoid all the hazards and pitfalls he set himself in life and died of natural causes at the age of fourteen – a goodly span considering his lifestyle. Wouldn’t it be great if there is a heaven and he’s up there waiting for me! I wonder how many of these kids from Miss Busby’s class remember Smokey?

m b's class for blog