Laddie’s Unworthy Film

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.


seoirse mac enri said...

Hi Ken, I remember both Laddie & Patch,I don't mind admitting that big alstaian put the crap crossways in me. My film is the French Connection.I had a springer, Cindy, she had a tumour removed aged 8 & thing went down hill over next nine months.While being released from the vets she walked toward me & my Dad then just fell infront of us.In a second she was gone.We brought her home to bury her ,both well matured men close to tears. Neither me or my Dad could sleep that night,we sat up late watching 'The French Connection' I still have a springer Sam ,who since my father passed away last year,each night sits by his chair waiting to be made a fuss of.When Sam goes, I don't think I'll leave the tv on.Just as I'll never see Popeye Doyle again, now for two reasons.
The post struck s chord with me mate, feeling a wee bit.. take care Ken

Ken Armstrong said...

You and me would have walked Laddie and Patch up the avenue a few summer days I reckon. I remember bringing a transistor radio along one time in particular. :)

Sam looks like a fine Springer, they're a great dog. Mind yourself, I'll see you one of the days. K

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, the death of pets. With my mum it was cats as you know. Dad was actually a dog person. He had a little black Scottie called Butch before I came along. I’ve a couple of dull photos of him with his dog—one is my dad sitting in his chair smoking a fag and reading the paper with the dog on the armrest—but that’s it. Butch, so I’ve been told, developed the habit of, as soon as Dad’s car came into view, he’d scamper down the road to be let in and the two of them would drive the last hundred yards together. And then one day there was no Butch. Dad found him dead under a hedge. His assumption was that the dog saw a car like his, ran to meet it and the driver never stopped. He said he had to wait until dark to bury the dog and as rigor mortis had set in it was like having a stuffed dog just sitting there in the living room. Tore him apart and he vowed—and dad took his vows seriously—that he’d never have another dog and he never did. It was cats for the next thirty years.

I only remember the death of one clearly: Tigger, the scarediest cat in the world. He didn’t have as much character as Tom, the first cat I really remember growing up, but he was the one I bonded with. He died once I’d moved out and when Dad called that week—as he did every Thursday evening—all I could hear was Mum in the background: “Don’t tell our Jimmy.” She knew I’d be upset and reckoned that was the kind of news that should be presented face to face. Of course by then I knew something was up and Dad told me. And to this day—which is nearly twenty years later—I still miss him terribly. I’m dreading the day our cockatiel dies. He’s become such a focal point in our lives—if someone had told me one could develop such an affection for a wee ball of fluff and squeak I’d’ve never have believed them but it’s true—and he’ll leave more than a birdie-shaped hole in our lives. The fish, on the other hand, as much as I’m fond of him and go out of my way to ensure his stay with us is as pleasant as I can make it, could die tomorrow and I’d just start planning what to replace him with. Odd that.

Marc Paterson said...

Hi Ken; I'm sorry Twitter sent me skittering back under a rock. I am on FB too - just look for the bloke in a Doctor Who scarf.

I don't have a film memory of Sam dying, our labrador cross. He had a road accident and my memory is of me and mum taking him to the vet, and me not knowing at the time he wouldn't be coming back.

I have a copy of James Herbert's Fluke with a dog on its cover that makes me think of him.

hope said...

They say every dog person gets ONE really special dog. Oh, they'll love every pet they have, but there's always that one.

Ours was Smokey, a 12 year old chocolate Lab who had to be put to sleep 2 weeks before Christmas a couple of years ago. It wasn't a film burned in my mind that day, it was the ringtone on my phone. Hubby had to take Smokey to a vet out of town while I stayed to watch his shop and he called me numerous times with updates and the co-decision, awful as it felt, to let Smokey go.

The next day, I changed the ringtone on my phone. Hearing it on someone else's phone still makes me feel a little sad.

I swear you have one of the biggest hearts I know...and you know how to get to ours. :)

shinester said...

I was given a dog called Laddie when I was 9 by an elderly farmer uncle. Like you, not many kids lived on our road in Dublin, so I walked him most days from Baggot Street Bridge to Leeson Street and back down the other side of the canal. In 1979, I was living in Copenhagen and by all accounts from home, he was becoming increasingly unwell and was blind in one eye, bumping into things and falling down the stairs. One evening, a group of 6 Danish friends I was sharing our apartment with were sitting eating dinner together when the phone rang. It was my sister telling me that Laddie had been put to sleep. Shocked and in tears I returned to the table, blurting out "Laddie's dead" - which led to an astonishing degree of upset on my behalf by my flatmates until I suddenly realised that they thought I had said "Daddy's dead". I gained a sense of perspective right there and then for my nineteen year old self. He was a great friend to me, that mongrel terrier dog.Laddie is a good name for a dog.