Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Bonzo …

Heaven goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in

Mark Twain



There have recently been a spate of posts that have featured the blogger's pet, usually a dog, as its main subject. Without getting all mushy about it I have to say I've enjoyed immensely reading these posts.

They are mainly warm recollections, tinged with a little sadness at the passing of the pet, but recalling the happier times that they managed to share, brief though they were. Two such posts are:

The first is a loving tribute to a well loved dog, reflective and funny at the same time. Only Shrinky can write that way! The piece by Denise is the last in a series of reports about Wilma, but you have to read it for yourself. More buoyant are the follow-ups about Freida, the latest addition to the Nesbitt family, but once again you need to read the posts for yourself. They are all delightful.

This is my tribute to a dog that was our family pet when I was a young whippersnapper, but I shall avoid dwelling on his passing and recount a tale that is slightly upbeat.

His name was, unoriginally, Bonzo, and he was an Airedale. Or so we were told by our mother who brooked no discussion on the matter. She had done extensive research of the first ten pages of the dog-eared copy of the Oxford English Dictionary that we had lying around the house and declared that, without doubt, Bonzo was an Airedale.

If Aardvarks were canine, she probably wouldn't have got past 'Aardvark'.

In reality he was a pariah or a Heinz-57 (he even had the classic ring-tail), but if it pleased mother to own an Airedale, so be it. Besides, showing any sign of dissent in our house usually invited a clip around the side of the head.

Bonzo was a traveller. Bonzo came and Bonzo went - nobody really knew from, and to where. His arrival always coincided with 'grub-time'. He'd wolf down whatever was on offer and then take off again, to continue what it was that he'd interrupted, so magnanimously, to grace us with his presence. The meal was usually boiled rice and offal, without salt, because mother always extolled the virtues of good husbandry for our animals. Never mind that the chickens, ducks and turkeys were regularly culled for the table, but I guess that while they lived they were happy enough. Free-range and unaware that they were there for a purpose. But let us put things in perspective; as long as man is at the top of the food chain and continues to be a natural carnivore, that is how things will always be!

Bonzo was, nevertheless, a much-loved family pet who gave unstintingly of his precious time when he wasn't obsessed with things away from home base. When he was languishing around the house, or outside in the shade of the mango or jamun trees, he was always alert to what was going on around him. He was not a large dog, but he still had a commanding presence when he stood up and squared off to an 'intruder'. One of his more endearing traits was that he was always ready to accompany any member of the family, to anywhere, if he was not actively discouraged. Discouragement was usually in the shape of a large rock flung in his general direction. He could take a hint!

The day I was glad that I hadn't discouraged him was the day I tangled with Cut-tail, the leader of the marauding band of Langur monkeys that passed through the railway colony roughly twice a week. He got his name from the simple fact that he had lost almost three quarters of his magnificent appendage in some bizarre accident. The monkeys would sweep through from east to west and then back again in the reverse direction a few days later, causing havoc and stealing anything they could lay their grubby little mitts on. They were naturally destructive creatures, always hungry and curious, and they managed to cause a lot of damage during their forays. It was reassuring that they hadn't set up their base in our railway colony and that they chose only to pass through. When they arrived, we boys would get out our catty's (catapults, slingshots) and start honing our marksman skills. This always attracted the wrath of Cut-tail who would circle the outer perimeters of his troop, constantly making mock charges in our direction. Very effective tactics on his part, because we boys had enough sense to stay well away from those teeth, and as a consequence our marksmanship was either way off or so depleted in velocity that it really didn't cause the band of monkeys too much concern.

On the day of this incident, I outpaced my own pack and found myself almost amongst the troop of monkeys! This was Cut-tail's chance.

And he took it.


A male Langur showing his teeth.The message is clear … 

He raced towards me, stump of a tail held aloft, teeth bared and screaming like a banshee. Enough to make a grown man turn and run. No-contest for a boy that was hardly larger than the monkey!

I did the only honourable thing. I retreated. Rapidly!

Ten paces in front of me was a wide culvert. It was really just an open drain dug into the soil without any form of buttressing to shore up the sides. Over the years the sides had eroded and it was now considerably wider than it was originally meant to be. However, I instinctively knew that that was a natural barrier that I should put between Cut-tail and myself and I took a running leap for the other side. In my dazed panic I briefly noticed a scruffy mongrel furiously scratching himself on the other side of the drain. It looked very much like my beloved Bonzo. He just had to be my salvation for the predicament in which I had thrust myself. At least, I hoped he was.

Whilst in the air, completing my Olympic-standard jump, I felt a huge weight land squarely between my shoulder blades. This was not good but, surprisingly, this was also something I needed. My momentum, despite my terror, probably wasn't going to be enough to span the gap. The added velocity of the enraged monkey on my back certainly helped to prove Sir Isaac Newton's third law of physics. And the deranged primate appeared to be doing his damndest to impersonate Donald Trump on a bad-hair day!

Boy and monkey landed in a crumpled heap at the feet of the unsuspecting dog. Before the monkey could complete his mission of sinking his molars into a succulent-part-of-boy, the dog reacted as most dogs do. The 3F's - 'Fright', 'Flight' or 'Fight'. Fortunately Bonzo chose the third option. Cut-tail weighed up the situation and in an instant decided that he was 'out-fanged' so, with consummate ease, he casually hopped back over the culvert to join his troop. At which point the dog, ecstatic with joy at a job well done, deliriously covered me with the sloppiest kisses he could bestow.

It was almost preferable to have had the monkey on my back!

If there is a moral to the story, or a lesson to be learned, it should be the reassuring one that nothing much changes over the ages. Boys will always be boys, and get themselves into all manner of scrapes. And dogs will always surprise you with instinctive reactions that you hope they have, but of which you can never be certain.

Of course, you are always pleasantly surprised when they live up to their description of being 'man's best friend'.

'Bye for now ...



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