Saturday, 30 July 2011

Dog's Dinner

We always had dogs.  Our first real family dog was called Boxer.  A huge Collie/St Bernard cross, this dog was pure Nana.  As tiny ones, we would fall asleep on him. He would lie very, very still for as long as possible. Then, when he got thoroughly fed up, he knew to slowly, gently pull away, never to drop our heads on the floor.  I don't know how I remember that, yet I can almost feel him edging away from under me.  He would guard an open gate, too, by barking till someone locked it, and I vividly remember playing K.I.N.G. alongside him. Slowly walking, then a sudden stop and hold stock-still as the child suddenly turned around.  He was a master. A canine gentleman, my father called him, and he was definitely in charge. 

Bokkie had to be sent to dog heaven when we emigrated to Tasmania in the shocking aftermath of  the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.  As children we were kept away from the news, but I remember some little girls in the school playground warning us the Russians were coming.  I remember watching and waiting for the Russian tanks to appear around the corner at the end of the road. Another young school friend got caught in our local shop when hundreds of Africans stampeded through the streets of Manor Gardens.  But they weren't after whites, they all ran straight past the little shop with the frightened shopkeeper inside. Most likely a show against Indian shopkeepers.  But that was the funny thing in Natal. By and large, the day-to-day relationship between Zulus and English as well as Indians (from South India) and the English was very good.  The true natural enmity lay between us and the Afrikaner. Separated in the apartheid manner, they had their own schools and areas. We were very far apart.  While Zulus were around from my very earliest memories, my first Afrikaner on my own terms was when I was 14.  Maryna was from Pretoria, and a "crunchie" - one of the annoying foreigners who invaded our beaches from "up country" every holiday. They provided endless ridiculous antics, swimming in winter for example, or, like the little boy who found a giant jellyfish and put it on his head shouting "kyk my hoed!! (look at my hat!)".. and then dropped down dead. While chocolate ads on the radio exhorted us to "bite-on-a-Crun-chie!", the English boys would sing, "beat-on-a-crun-chie!"  But we weren't really all like that of course, and I befriended Maryna at a campsite up the coast.  For two weeks we swam together, sunbathed on the glorious white beaches, and revelled in our holiday freedom together. Eventually we confided our deepest prejudices.... I told her I'd always thought Afrikaners were well, stupid. And she confessed she'd always thought us English were ...wet.

Tasmania was far too cold for our little toes, and the truth is my father missed his African work-force. So back to Durban, and the university neighbourhood of Manor Gardens.  Leafy and hilly, the valleys behind covered with huge swathes of bush. It was here we got a real Boxer puppy, Kris.  If Bokkie was Nana, this dog was sheer Scooby Doo. Beefy, shiny, frenetic docked tail and huge flopping mouth with a mountain of drool, he was very, very keen.  No master, this one, he was the biggest kid going.  One of the gang.  Arriving home was a messy business as Kris the dog would jump up at the car long before it had come to a stop, and cover the two side windows in buckets of happy slobber.  Of course as children, we didn't mind at all, but I well remember the regular horrified shrieks of various aunts as they were excitedly greeted with revolting strings of drool.  Giving him a boys name didn't bother us until my sister got a boyfriend called Chris. The poor boy turned pale when he turned up at the front door for the first time, to be greeted by "GET OUT KRIIIIISSSSS!!!!  GET!! OUUUUTTTTT!!!"  That's when he became Kris the Dog.

He only really let us down the once.  My mother's car must have broken down, because very unusually, my mum caught the bus with us four children into town.  Sensing something was up, Kris followed, and waited with us at the bus stop.  The huge single-decker bus finally stopped for our little group, and it was then that Kris made his plans clear.  He was coming. He bounded onto the bus, closely followed by us three older children. Right down the middle aisle, claws scrabbling, straight under the long seat at the back.  The seats that were in those days reserved for blacks only.  We three raced down the bus calling and cajoling, but he wasn't moving. My brother scrambled under the seat behind legs, and got hold of his heavy leather collar and started pulling.  No luck. My sister joined in to pull him out.  He levered himself in even more tightly.  This huge bulk of squirming dog-hood wasn't giving up.  I joined in, and finally we yanked him out.  But that was only the beginning. He proceeded to brace his legs against every single pair of seats up the whole aisle. I took the back position to push, and between the three of us, we pulled and heaved, dislodging his hulking frame, paw by reluctant paw.  I can still feel the gnarling of the giant diesel engine beneath me as slowly we worked him up the aisle, past quizzical passengers, through the bus till eventually we pushed the big spoilsport down the stairs and back to my mother and little sister waiting in silence on the kerb.   It took a very long time and a lot of effort, but we had him off.  We gave up on our outing, and the bus driver pulled away without another glance.

It was not too long after that, back in my mother's little car, I saw Kris for the last time.  We were all packed in and leaving the family home. It wasn't the best time.  South Africa was bursting with its insanity and these things are catchy. As we belted away, I looked back.  There was my father, standing at our gate, watching us go.  And Kris, his jowls flailing,  galloping and galloping after the car.

I don't know about you, but I could do with a drink.  How about this:

Bloody Mary jelly shots
150ml vodka ,  2 tbs water, bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat and sprinkle 10g powdered gelatine sachet, whisk until dissolved, obviously. Into a mixing bowl, place: 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp Tabasco, 1 tsp creamed horse radish, juice 1 small lemon, 450ml tomato juice, 2 tbs creme fraiche, qurter cucumber de-seeded and finely diced, strain in the vodka /  gelatine mixture...pour into 6 "Manhattan" glasses (we've got hundreds - but you get the drift). Refrigerate.

To dogs.


  1. your sister Valerie had sent me to your blog and I have enjoyed my visit very much. We have been owned by 3 boxers over the years and can't imagine having any other kind of dog. I do not want to know why it was the last time you ever saw him- politics of that period were so very scary- even to a canadian kid living a safe childhood on the prairies. I'll just go and kiss our old boy on the top of the head for you and avoid the lips.
    Nina in Canada

  2. It's always my dream to own a dog, but living in a small aparatment in Japan, it was nearly impossible. Now that I'm in the US - a big spacious place, my husband refused to own a dog (he can't face the pet's death well). I enjoyed your story very much. I still dream of having a dog (at least one) and trying to tell my kids to talk to my husband. LOL. Nice jelly shots! :-)

  3. The dog looks cute! Thanks for the Bloody Mary jelly shots recipe...
    Eftychia from: