I written quite a few posts about how so many specific memories of mine seem inextricably linked to the movies I saw around the same time.
The first number of posts have worked out okay because I have naturally veered towards those moments in my life when either the memory or the film itself has been extraordinary. Films like ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ or ‘Body Heat’ seem to fit that bill.
But it hasn’t always been the case.
Like, for instance, when Laddie died. I went to the pictures on the day after Laddie died to try to cheer myself up and now the film that I saw is forever associated in my head with Laddie’s death.
And it wasn't a good one.
So, who was Laddie?
Every Friday night, when we were small, Dad would bring home comics. When I was older, I know it was ‘Cor’ or ‘Whizzer and Chips’ but I can no longer remember what the comics were from the earlier years. All I remember was that they were brightly coloured and new and that we lay on the floor and read them for ages. I was three years old so I think I can be forgiven for being a bit vague.
On those Friday nights, Dad would come in and we would search in the pockets of his coat to find the comics. We wouldn’t let him take the coat off or anything, we’d just be straight in there trying to find the treasure.
This one evening, Dad came in and we dived for his coat. “Careful now,” he said. Careful? Why? It was only paper. This time, though, it wasn’t only paper. A wet, blunt, tiny snout pushed itself out of a coat pocket and sniffed the air. I remember it so well to this day. At last, we had a dog.
This was Laddie.
Laddie didn’t stay a snub nosed furry bundle for long. He soon grew into a full size German Shepherd dog. He was an exceptional animal, kind and intelligent, obedient and friendly. After he grew up, he lived in the large back garden and he never really came in the house. He had his kennel and he was walked all the time. He was a very good dog.
He also did his job incredibly well. He was, essentially, a watch dog. Our back garden presented an attractive short cut to the town and there were small boats and outboard motors and such out there so it was necessary to discourage the short-cutters. Laddie, lovely and all as he was, did that pretty darned well. Like I said he was a big German Shepherd (actually, we used ‘Alsatian’ mostly) and he knew that nobody but family was allowed in the back garden. He never hurt anybody but, to put it bluntly, he scared the shit out of quite a few.
When I arrived at a certain age, twelve perhaps, Laddie became mine. I fed him and walked him and looked after him. Although I had school friends, they mostly lived far away so Laddie became more than a pet or a charge to me. We became fairly fast friends. We would do the riverside walk pretty much every day and I like to think we both enjoyed it equally well.
By the time Laddie became mine, Patch had also come along. Patch was a Springer Spaniel with a pedigree as long as my arm. He was also bought as a pup to be trained as a gun dog but he never took to the task, preferring rolling down hills to retrieving pheasants. He was soon retired from gun dog duties and took up a permanent position as Laddie’s wing-dog. They were a good team. All three of us were, really.
One day, in 1977, Laddie got sick. We brought him into the kitchen and laid him out on a blanket. In the evening – it was a Sunday – we called out the vet again as he seemed worse. The vet gave him an injection and said he would rest easier now.
Later in the evening I went out to the kitchen to check on Laddie. His eyes were open and his tongue lolled. He was dead.
Dad and I buried him the next day up the back of the shed. Patch looked on.
It was my very first experience of death and it did not bring weeping or gnashing of teeth. Instead there was a rather hollowed-out disbelieving feeling. Laddie had become a husk and we had put him under the ground. It silenced me a little.
Mum suggested I should go to the movies. This was unheard-of on a Monday school night. She knew that books and films were the things that tended to heal me. In those days, the Gaiety showed a different film or double-feature every couple of nights. On the night after Laddie died, I went by myself, as I often did, to see what was on and that film is now tied in my memory to that event. The film was ‘Are You Being Served?’.
Laddie was a big part of my life and I missed him for a long long time after he went away. I would probably serve his memory better by leaving off any mention of the film I saw that night. As a storyteller I know it kills the air of gentle reminiscence.
But that’s sort of the point.
I think it goes to show that memories aren't always tidy and ordered for presentation to the public in easily digestible form. If I wanted to make this piece more poignant then I should probably change the film I saw. But, no, untidy memories have their own charm too, I reckon.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.