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MR GIMLETT’S DOG

 

When I was a youngster, there lived at the end of our street, an elderly man called Mr Gimlett.  Mr Gimlett was a keen gardener and since he and his wife had their grown up children off their hands, spent much of his free time either pottering about in his immaculate garden or else down at the local Workingmen’s Club.

 

The Gimletts had a dog, or at least, as Mrs Gimlett proclaimed, Archie (Mr Gimlett) had a dog.  It was a fox terrier.  Mrs Gimlett knew that whilst it was her who had fancied and bought the aforesaid dog, the dog had won the heart of the anti-canine Mr Gimlett.  Mr Gimlett had been none too pleased at the prospect of owning a dog.  He had never liked dogs and had visions of the “Brute” shitting and scratching in his garden!

 

Mrs Gimlett declared that she needed company and the possible protection of a dog on those numerous and protracted occasions when Mr Gimlett had disappeared down to the Workingmen’s Club.

 

Mr Gimlett gave in and they bought a fox terrier from the local constable, who bred them as a hobby.

 

Initially the dog flourished on the attention lavished on it by Mrs Gimlett, but it did seem to tire of the house and female company and Mr Gimlett from time to time would find it following him out into the garden.  He used to try and ignore the dog, except when it did attempt to shit in his spud patch, but he began to get used to this little black and white shadow which had begun to trace in his footsteps, out under the clothesline and down to the toolshed.  Mr Gimlett began to listen for the tell tale rattle of the terrier’s toenails on the verandah’s wooden decking as he reached the steps leading down, past the geraniums, onto the garden path.

 

To begin with Mrs Gimlett was pleased at the perceptible change in attitude which her husband had begun to show towards her dog, then she began to become resentful that the dog was spending an increasing amount of time following Mr Gimlett about the place; “after all”, she thought “I had to struggle to convince Archie to let me get a dog, and now it’s beginning to spend more time with him than with me!”

 

In time, this resentment passed and even turned to pleasure as she discovered herself enjoying the vision from her kitchen window of Mr Gimlett and the foxy ferrying weeds to the compost.  It wasn’t as if the dog contented itself to merely follow Mr Gimlett about, it even began to imitate some of his actions.  So when Mrs Gimlett witnessed Mr Gimlett and the foxy ferrying weeds to the compost what she saw was Mr Gimlett, with a fork-load of chickweed and the dog padding along in pursuit dragging a mouthful of the same.

 

Mr Gimlett smoked.  He rolled his own and while he thought of what job to tackle next, he would settle into the old sofa on the verandah and roll a fag, the terrier sitting, captivated, at his feet staring up with its round, black eyes taking in every detail as the rice paper and fibrous tobacco became lovingly transformed into a cigarette.  Having puffed away until a new project had climbed above his mental horizons Mr Gimlett would flick the stub out onto the dry soil between the geraniums, gain his feet (which appeared no easy feat, as the sofa’s springs were about shot) and proceed in one direction or other, followed by the dog.  Archie was surprised one day, though to hear the terrier rattle across the rimu decking and then begin snuffing amongst the geraniums.  I’m sure he thought “that bloody dogs gonna have a piss on Alice’s geraniums”, because he turned about angrily.  There was the foxy skipping down the path with the spent fag hanging from his chops!  Archie doubled over and slapped his knee in good humour.

 

As I’ve intimated the dog won its way into Mr Gimlett’s heart by way of imitation.  The dog’s antic with the cigarette sealed their mutual affections and the foxy began to regularly pick up Archie’s discarded cigarette butts, even if they were still smouldering and Archie swore to Alice that the dog even puffed on them.  Alice witnessed the comical events herself and began to refer to the dog as little “Archie”.

 

How come I know so much about the goings on at this property at the end of the street?  Well, I used to pass this place almost everyday after school or if I was off to play at a friend’s place, so I caught frequent glimpses of the Gimletts’ lives as I daudled past their white picket fence.

 

I gained an extended panorama and view of the Gimletts’ lives from the boughs of a flowering plum which overhung the public footpath.  In midsummer this tree produced a profusion of fruit, which when at the point of being discarded by the tree were tolerably edible, or at least I thought so.  The path used to became a sodden mess as the falling fruit were minced under the feet of passing pedestrians.  At this time of the year, I would clamber onto the top of the Gimlett’s picket fence, swing myself up on the lowest branch and climb to where the fruit seemed ripest.  I reasoned that Mr Gimlett wouldn’t mind, after all some people cursed the mess the fallen fruit made on the footpath, so I wasn’t doing any harm by eating a few thousand.  I knew, too, from my many previous and then, less justifiable hours in its upper branches in earlier years, that the Gimletts never used the fruit.  So it was from this vantage point that many details, presented here, were observed.

 

By the time the Gimletts had owned “Little Archie” for a couple of years, I frequently saw the foxy trotting after Mr Gimlett with a smouldering fag-end protruding from it’s jaws!  I remember Mr Gimlett’s original surprise when the terrier had retrieved the first cigarette but with time he, and I, began to react as if the dog had been smoking all of its life.  I’ve even seen the dog look up so imploringly as Mr Gimlett has been settling into the old sofa, rolling himself a fag, that Mr Gimlett has rolled one especially for  “Little Archie”, and lit it, too!

 

There was a great deal of affection between the two, it was quite a combination to see the two sitting on the verandah, smoking.  Of course the cigarettes used to last a lot longer in “Little Archie’s” mouth than they did in Mr Gimlett’s, I guess that’s because he lacked the where-with-all to have a real good suck, on the end of it, his lips being less dextrous and such.  So, long after Mr Gimlett had descended the verandah steps and taken up hoe, fork or push-mower the dog was trotting about behind him with the cigarette between his lips and a wisp of smoke trailing him.

 

Mr Gimlett grew his own tobacco, I expect that’s partly why he never begrudged the expense of “wasting” tobacco on his dog.  I think in fact that Mr Gimlett must have been convinced of tobacco’s herbal value because of the way he so lovingly cultivated it, and because of some thing else and witnessed from my high perch in the plum tree.

Now and then, “Little Archie” would take to dragging himself across the lawn, on his bum!  I heard Mr Gimlett say to Mrs Gimlett one day, upon observing this “I’m sure that dog’s trying to dislodge worms, by doing that”.  One day when the foxy again dragged its bum on the grass,  Mr Gimlett grabbed “Little Archie”, upended him and snatching the cigarette from the dog’s gaping jaws poked the unlit end up the startled dog’s anus.  “Little Archie” spun in circles trying to get a better view of this change of anal circumstances and it was a more than comical sight to see this whirling dog trying urgently to understand this new ‘turn’ of events and the circle of white smoke that now seemed to issue from the rear instead of from the front.

 

My laughing came close to giving me away, and the ripple that ran down my branch raised the day’s tally of fallen fruit.

 

“That nicotine might fix those little buggers,”  I heard Mr Gimlett say, alluding to “Little Archie’s” worms.

 

After that the dog did seem to drag his bum less often and whenever he did Mr Gimlett was sure to upend the dog and change the dog’s cigarette from one end to the other.  “Little Archie” obviously got used to this reversal of smoking procedure and perhaps thought that only Mr Gimlett’s trousers prevented a similar sight being observable.

 

I never mentioned about the cigarette up the dog’s bum to my parents but I did relate that “Little Archie” smoked a fag, which of course, my parents found very hard to believe.  However I nearly cracked up one day when mum came in after retrieving the newly arrived newspaper from the front gate and declared that she had just seen Mr Gimlett and his dog heading off up the street towards the Workingmen’s Club, the little dog skipping along, carrying one rear leg (as terriers often do).  “But”, she said, “I am convinced there was a wisp of smoke escaping from that damned dog’s bum!”  I almost burst and bit my lips to control myself.  “Now, why would there be smoke coming from a dog’s bum?” asked my astonished mother.

 

I guess that once you get used to something, as the Gimletts and I had (that is the dog liking a cigarette) you tend to forget that it’s unusual.  So, too, Mr Gimlett must have forgotten that dogs don’t normally run about with a fag up their rear end and had unconcernedly headed off to the local Workingmen’s Club with the foxy at his heels and “Little Archie” a trail of smoke at his heels.

 

Of course they don’t let dogs into the bar at the Workingmen’s Club, even Mr Gimlett’s dog, though the barman and patrons are real fond of him, must wait outside for his master.  But the mates of old Mr Gimlett were a pretty sentimental lot and allowed “Little Archie” to wait in the porch, out of the cold, and one good natured wit even furnished “Little Archie’s” possie with a maroon velvet cushion.

 

I think I understand now better than anyone else, except perhaps Mr Gimlett, how it came about that on the evening of my mum’s observation the local Workingmen’s Club was burned to the ground.

 

The last of the club’s patrons had staggered off in the general directions of home.  The barman had retrieved “Little Archie’s” cushion from the porch “so that none of the local mongrels will piss on it”, (perhaps its a pity they hadn’t!)  and had stowed it under the bar.

 

The club had been locked and deserted for the night.

 

I still remember that vivid orange glow in the sky that night.

 

As Mr Gimlett returned from surveying the charred wreck of his favourite establishment, my mum, who was out at the gate asked, “how do think it was started, Archie?  someone’s bloody cigarette I suppose!” she ventured, unknowingly.  Mr Gimlett’s jaw had dropped and he’d resumed his homeward journey, “Little Archie” ‘innocently’ skipping along behind.

 

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