Monday, October 11, 2010

6. Peter and Paul

We had two beautiful Alsatians, Peter and Paul. Sometimes father would take Jane and me to Wimbledon Common with the dogs, where I would ride Peter like a little horse. He was so sweet and gentle. When both dogs caught distemper and nearly died, mother nursed them night and day, fed them on bread and milk and they survived. Do dogs get distemper these days? Maybe there is now a vaccine to prevent it. When father’s business went bust Peter and Paul had to go - we couldn't afford to feed them - they were whisked away before I could even say goodbye, and I was heart broken. I wanted to find them and I was told that my beloved Peter had been sold to a local shop keeper as a guard dog; I walked down the back lane of the shops, peeping through the slats in the wooden fences, until I saw him, chained to a kennel. He went mad when he heard me calling him, and the shop owner came out and shouted at the dog in a horrid way. I ran home in tears. Later I saw Paul, muzzled, being walked by his new owner. Why the muzzle? Paul would never bite anyone.

We also had a beautiful Persian cat who disappeared, and mother said she had been stolen by a gypsy who had come to the house selling clothes pegs. When my goldfish jumped out of their fish bowl and died flapping about on the carpet, their gills full of fluff, and then our little Sealyham ran out into the road and was killed by a car, decided that having animals was not a good idea. Every animal I have ever cared for caused me heartache.

Mother was in hospital and I was sent to stay with the some of father’s “Drinking Friends”, as mother put it, where I had the time of my life. We were given a half penny every morning to spend on the way to school and a penny every afternoon. Such riches! I had never eaten so many sweets in my life. We played hide and seek, and I hid under a bed where the dust was so thick that I came out looking like a snowman. There was always a huge piece of cheese on the kitchen table, with lots of bread and jam, and whenever we were hungry we made cheese and tomato sauce sandwiches – thick ones – with clumsily cut, very uneven slices of bread. There were no house rules and we all laughed a lot. When mother telephoned to say she was back from the hospital she was surprised and disappointed when I asked if I could please stay and finish my game of marbles! That experience taught me that children are unaware of untidiness and bad cooking, what they need most is love, laughter, warmth, a full tummy and freedom from fear. A cupboard full of plastic toys will never replace those precious things.

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