A long time ago, when I was a young lad, I had the acquaintance of a dog called Seumus.
Now Seumus was of, shall we say, indeterminate lineage. There seemed to be a fair bit of black Labrador in there, but it was mixed with some distinctly non-pedigree characteristics, including a tail that curled over his back. When Seumus was feeling full of himself, he carried this high and showed to the world his anal sphincter. I’m sure that’s not in the Labrador breed book.
Seumus was, officially, the companion of a certain John Harbottle, a most excellent cove. John in those days worked on the oil in the North Sea. It had just arrived and the streets of Aberdeen were paved with gold…or was it Torry lassie’s knickers? It was a long time ago, I forget.
Anyway, John worked for a company called ODECO, doubtless now long gone. His work schedule was 2 weeks on, one week off, which was standard in 1973. But it meant that young Seumus was lodged with us for two out of every three weeks.
So who were we? Oh, well a group of somewhat indigent young men, musicians, students and …well I’m not really sure what a couple of us really did, you know, but it was fine. We lived in a big flat in Southpark Avenue in Glasgow, at the time the hub of the city’s ‘alternative’ culture. We even had gay friends, imagine that.
Due to a very complex set of relationships which to be frank I still do not really understand, Harbottle slept in the hallway of our flat when he was ‘onshore’. Since he was a normal young man, possessed of an urge which some of us have never lost, this made going to the bathroom in the middle of the night an entertaining experience, depending on how lively the lady he was spending the night with had turned out to be. (‘Bell’s and lemonade; a great leg-opener.’ But oh dearie me, how non-PC.)
Because the Bottle — his nocturnal nuptials done — returned to his rig after a week, we lads had to look after Seumus.
There was a problem. Seumus was gaining weight.
Now there was another dog in the flat, Foi, who was at least as bad as Seumus even if, being longhaired, white and tan, he was a good deal more poofy-looking. (I always imagined Seumus with a flat cap and a hand-rolled cigarette, his eyes narrow against the smoke. He was a very Glaswegian dog.) Just goes to show you can’t judge a dog by his hair.
Foi was of stable weight and the two four-legged lads were on similar diets, but Seumus was ballooning, to the point that Harbottle was protesting. We did rather think that he was less than helpful, since he insisted on taking Seumus out and getting him drunk on beer. But this protestation was lost on Harbottle, and Seumus, well, he didn’t really speak English. Especially after four pints.
We lived on the top floor of our block, a position beloved of students, musicians and other wastrels, because flats at that elevation were cheaper. As responsible dog-owners — or at least, lodgers — we had to ensure that nature’s call could be met by our four-legged friends, so the first person up in the morning (or, not usually, the last person to bed) would open the front door and away down the stairs they would run, to do their business…somewhere else. It was long before pooper-scoopers, you know.
After they came back, we would feed them.
Seumus’ expanding girth was a mystery. We cut down his rations. Still got fat. We told all our friends and visitors (of which there were a great many) to stop feeding him sandwiches, sweeties or for that matter anything. He still got fat and we began to dread the berating we would inevitably get when Bottle came back and found his beloved canine boozing partner resembling a black hairy rugby ball.
One Saturday morning we decided that a bit of sleuthing was needed, so we all got dressed before dog-out time. When we let them out, we followed.
We had assumed that they would both head off in the same direction, but no; Foi, the poofy one, shot out to the back green to add to the minefield there, while Seumus, having cocked his leg on a lamppost outside the door, struck off down the hill towards Great Western Road.
Seumus was a total star in traffic, and we watched admiringly as he threaded his way between the cars and buses to the other side. When it was safe for less agile humans to do the same, we crossed. He had entered a butcher’s shop and was there chomping down a Scotch pie while the butcher patted him affectionately.
‘You know Seumus, then?’ we asked.
‘Oh, aye, Jim, I do. Comes here every morning for his wee pie you know. Is he your dog, but?’
Taking deep breaths, we explained the situation and that in order to please Seumus’; owner, who could not just then be present but had appointed us legal guardians of said mutt, we would most appreciate it if our butcher would stop giving him pies. The good man was most crestfallen, but reluctantly agreed.
While we were doing this, Seumus, having consumed the pie, took off again. We followed. A block further in towards town, there was another butcher, and I am sure it will come as no surprise for you to learn that by the time we got there, Seumus was noshing on a meat pie, wagging his tail and being complimented by this butcher.
We managed to switch off the rascal’s access to another butcher — thee in all — and two bakers, before we lost him. I think he knew what we were up to.
Well it was by then approaching noon and chasing dogs around Great Western Road is thirsty work, you know. So the four of us — Eddie, Jeff, Dick and I — decided that we had earned a couple of pints and it was Saturday, after all.
Now Glasgow in those days was a somewhat territorial sort of a place. That meant you were cautious about going to bars frequented by, shall we say, other teams. Our turf was the Three Feathers by Kelvinbridge subway station. (As an aside, the station’s sign for years lacked the ‘K’ and the ‘B’, giving it the charmingly Tolkienesque pseudonym ‘Elvinridge’. This later became the name of one of our bands…but of that, anon.)
The trouble was, we were by that time close to the end of Byres Road and Kelvinbridge was too far. Now because of that little territorial thing, we would never have entered the place after dark, but in broad daylight it seemed safe, so we decided to go to the Curlers instead. It was much closer to home.
In we go, without any issues; the place was almost empty. We purchased our pints and sat down at a table near the window to review the morning’s campaign. We were just beginning to feel that way one does, that all is well with the world, and I was at the bar getting the second round, when guess who trotted in.
To our amazement, the same dog ran straight behind the bar, where he appeared to be the long-lost beloved best friend (ever) of the barman. And more than that, said barman had a glass of slops just waiting for him, which Seumus cheerily began to lap up, while the barman petted him etc etc.
And you know what? The glass had Seumus’ name on it. As the man later told us, he came in every day and was a valued — if non-paying — customer. Why should he not have his own glass?
So our errant canine was availing himself of at least three Scotch pies, two buns and a pint of beer, every day, before lunch! No wonder he was putting on weight.
We never did get those pounds off him. I think he was just too smart for us. Oh, and lest ye think that this is all mere hokum, a fanciful tale cooked up just to amuse you, it’s all true. I have witnesses.