From the late seventies until the late eighties, I had two dogs. The first of these was Sinbad who was part-whippet, part-greyhound – what people called a lurcher, silent small and fast. Later I got Scraps, a foundling who was also part-greyhound, but much larger and more aggressive. Both were, in their own particular and peculiar ways, disgusting.
Sinbad was sex-driven. If we left the bedroom door open during the day, he’d be in there in seconds, humping one of the pillows. Very drunk one night, I fell into bed forgetting to first check if Sinbad had been there before me. He had, as I discovered next morning when I awoke to find that my pillow was firmly glued to my face.
Sinbad loved me. Having got up early one morning with Kay who was my partner at the time and his original owner, he’d followed her downstairs and been fed. With an entire can of dogfood inside him, he came back upstairs to find me. I was still fast asleep, lying on my back under the duvet. He jumped up on the bed and, weighing very little, was able to lie on top of me without disturbing me. I’ve no idea how long he lay there, his front paws on my shoulders, staring into my serenely sleeping face.
What I do know is that when I eventually woke and yawned, he stuck his long wet tongue, strongly flavoured with dogfood, deeply and affectionately down my throat. In England we call this a French kiss. It’s what lovers do. Sinbad and I did indeed love one another. However, I felt then, as I do now, that intimacy of this kind doesn’t work well between two different species. Call me fussy, but the memory isn’t a particularly pleasant or romantic one.
Scraps proved equally gross. He earned his name as sole survivor from a litter of puppies left in the rusted remains of a car in an abandoned scrapyard. As each of his siblings had died inside that vehicle, he’d survived by eating first them, then their excrement, and then his own excrement, gaining a taste for these delicacies which stayed with him for several years. In one sense, this made him the perfect canine pet. There was no need for us or our neighbours to carry little black plastic bags or poop scoops when out walking our dogs. Scraps would enthusiastically devour his own turds and those of every other dog. This habit gave his breath a memorably distinct odour, one made all the more unforgettable by his abiding appetite for well-rotted raw flesh.
On one memorable occasion, we’d let him out while packing the car to go on holiday. Gone for ages, he eventually returned with the three-foot maggot-ridden corpse of a fish in his mouth. Each time we tried to take it from him, he’d retreat a distance to enable him to devour a little more of it. Thus he managed, eventually, to gulp down the entire rancid cadaver before we could reach him. By now we were running late. We bundled him into the car and set off on a five hour drive down south. Ten minutes later, he regurgitated the whole of this fish together with the rest of the evil contents of his stomach all over the rear seat and foot-well. One of the shortcomings of the English language is that it lacks the words to describe the rest of that journey.
Scraps was a guard dog. Throughout his life, he saw it as his personal duty to defend our front door. This consisted of three vertical panels of thick frosted glass in wooden frames. He’d slam himself dramatically against that glass whenever anyone approached.
When some of the local kids stuck sticks through the letterbox to wind him up, he became so enraged that he hurled himself clean through the door. Responding to the sound of breaking glass, I discovered my neighbour’s teenage son standing outside the shattered door, a large dagger of glass protruding from his stomach and a bright bloodstain spreading across the front of his t-shirt. Scraps, nowhere to be seen, returned an hour later covered in even deeper lacerations. Luckily, both dog and teenager recovered.
During the early 1980s I ran punk venues in West Yorkshire. One of the bands I regularly booked was The Subhumans, fronted by Dick Bluurg who became a good friend. He ran his own record label, Bluurg Records.
Towards the end of 1986, a band asked me to help them secure a recording deal. With that in mind, I send a demo cassette of their songs to Dick. Having recently put together a mix-tape of my own recordings, I included that as a gift. To my genuine surprise, Dick replied that he wasn’t interested in the band’s demo but would like to do an album of my mix-tape.
So, in 1987, two years after I’d given up gigging as a vocalist/frontman, my debut vinyl album, InTOCZEKated, was released by Bluurg. It was pressed in France, a job long delayed due to priority jobs from major labels. I waited impatiently. Finally, some two months late, a large square cardboard envelope was pushed through our letterbox. Scraps, assuming the role of self-appointed music critic, promptly bit the disc in half. It took weeks for a replacement to arrive.
Actually, I loved Scraps just as much as I love Sinbad. Why? Let me tell you. During the early 1980s I was the editor and publisher of the music mag, Wool City Rocker. One issue carried an advert for a Manchester band. Their manager, who also ran a venue in the city, had a reputation for booking bands and then not paying the promised fee. He also had a fairly fearsome reputation as a gangster. When he failed to pay me for the advert, I phoned him. He was out. I spoke to his wife, saying that unless I was paid, I’d write him up as a rip-off merchant in the next issue of the magazine. “He won’t like that,” she told me before slamming the phone down. I thought little of this. In retrospect, I guess I underestimated his gangster rep.
Early next morning, I was woken by someone knocking on the front door. Apart from Sinbad and Scraps, I was alone in the house. Half asleep and unaware that it wasn’t yet 5am, I opened the door, expecting to see the postman. In came the little gangster guy from Manchester with two bouncers from his club, the biggest of whom picked me up by my dressing-gown collar, carried me into the back room, and slammed me up against the wall.
Scraps shot across the room and shoved his muzzle into the bouncer’s crotch, emitting a long low growl. The man with his hand round my throat told me to “Get that f***in’ dog off me!”
“You must be joking,” I coughed. Scraps, the hairs on his back now raised like a punk Mohican, growled even louder.
“Tell him to call it off now”, he told his boss. The gangster looked at me. “I want my money first”, I croaked.
“Give him the f***in’ money, boss. You didn’t say he had a dog.” The little guy chucked my fifty quid on the floor. “Put it on the table,” I said, sensing I’d got the upper hand, despite having a much bigger hand still gripping my throat.
“Pick it up, boss! You know I hate dogs.” Reluctantly, the guy picked up the notes and bunged them on the table.
“Now get it off me,” barked the terrified bouncer. “Not till they’ve gone,” I mumbled, nodding uncomfortably towards his two companions. “Get out, you two!” he said. And, to my amazement, they both left.
The guy let me go. I dragged the still-growling Scraps from between his legs.
“You going?” I asked as he turned towards the door. “I bloody am,” he muttered. “I didn’t want to come here in the first place. This isn’t my argument. I’ve already done a full night’s work. I’m going home. I’m knackered. I’m taking those two back to Manchester and then getting some kip.” And he left.
Later that day I bought Scraps a big bag of butcher’s bones. And he loved them… loved them more that Sinbad loved me, and loved them more than he loved the taste of dog-shit or rotting flesh.