I have never owned a dog, although until I was six my father had a small terrier, which was terrified of fireworks, presumably having experienced too many exploding bombs and gunfire during the Second World War. We, and my wife's family too, became cat owners for the rest of our lives until our last two cats died 10 years ago.
As I spend much of my time outdoors walking, cycling and working as a drystone dyker, I have become very conscious that many people own dogs to give them an excuse to get out of the house for exercise, especially during the past year or so. Last week, we met up in a local park with a friend who had just acquired a Cardigan Corgi puppy called Blue. We presented him with a flashing ball-shaped toy which happily provided a new source of something to chase around the park. The dog enjoyed it too.
There are only a handful of these corgis, not the more familiar Pembroke kind, in Edinburgh, so it may come as no surprise when Blue's owner was informed that his dog was already known by the other corgi owners. The dog network is obviously very strong, especially if you have a rare breed, and it seems that most owners will know other dogs, and their names, better than the names of their owners. Indeed, when told about the death of someone who regularly walked his dog locally, the listener only recognised this person when told the name of the dog not the owner.
Like those with babies in prams and pushchairs, having a dog seems to give others carte blanche to come up and speak to you. Because I feel that I'm being left out of part of a great social life, from now on, I think I'll always carry a dog lead around with me, as if I'm forever looking for my missing dog (a Jack Russell called Bob, by the way).
For real dog owners a plea. As a cyclist, I am constantly on the lookout for unattended dogs and I try to steer as far from them as possible. They aren't always in control of their actions, dog noses being so sensitive to other interesting doggy smells. However, even such an avoidance strategy can fall short. I recently passed between a small dog and its owner without realising that there was a near-invisible wire extension lead waiting to catch me out.
As I lay stunned on the tarmac, blood oozing from several cuts and grazes, I did wonder whether the poor dog had been flung through the air like a swing ball. Gradually recovering the power of speech, I commented that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to have a lead stretching right across a busy promenade. When I realised that its female owner was far from sympathetic to my plight, saying she had as much right to walk her dog as... you could see where this conversation was going.
Needless to say, I have avoided that particular route since. And maybe I won't get an imaginary dog, or its lead, after all.
Largs indeed! (David Donald
, 9 June 2021) What I remember, the Moorings apart and the Pencil just outside, that rather peculiar memorial to the Vikings, is Barrfield's Pavilion. It probably wasn't its heyday in the immediate postwar years – they could have been in the 1930s – but it was one of the Clyde Coast's homes to summer shows and they were still pretty good even in austerity Britain. Not quite as posh, perhaps, as the Gaiety in Ayr with its sparkling Gaiety Whirl shows, but still a revelation to a postwar 12-year-old as to what theatre was all about.
There was a comedian, a straight man, chorus girls, a speciality act or two and lots of colourful glitter. Constructed in 1931, it had some 1,000 seats so it was a pretty big venue and while I cannot recall who I saw – they probably meant nothing much to me at the time – it did play host over those years to pretty well everyone you can think of who played the variety circuits of Scotland... From Jack Milroy by way of Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter, The Krankies, Johnny Beattie, Ronnie Corbett, Sally Logan, Rikki Fulton and the Houston Sisters, Renee and Billie, with, it seems, the odd southern visitor for good luck. Frankie Vaughan sang there as did Pat Kirkwood.
Entertainment is available now at the press of a remote control button but the 1950s were very different. There was no television, no DVDs, no Zooms, no CDs and the theatres in the cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow were places to be visited only on special occasions, and these would almost certainly be to see the pantomime, an art form in which Scotland's comics were practitioners supreme. In the postwar days of going to the seaside for one's holidays, the summer show was an important part of the holiday.
It was showbusiness and Barrfields is the place I remember from the holidays in Largs, as well as the Moorings, but cafes run by Italians serving ice cream made by the proprietor were all over the Lowlands so the Nardinis were really only first among equals you might say. My home town of Lanark had its Diplacitos and Coias and there was a legendary ice cream maker in Elie, on the other side of the country, whose name I have forgotten. But that is by the way.
This is about Largs – holidays there were brought to mind reading David Donald last week. He did not mention that oddest of monuments, the Pencil, constructed in 1912 to mark what could have been, but probably wasn't, the site of the Battle of Largs in 1263 when the Scots defeated a Viking force led by King Hakan. The walk to view this strange affair was also one of the holiday treats.
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