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20 November 2012

Major and Me

“Ma, can I get a Bay City Roller Jumper – they are selling them at the Co-op for £1.99?” I shouted through the toilet door to my mammy. “Everybody has one” I added.

My dog Major was at my feet begging to be taken out for a pee, his toe nails were scratching and clicking on the cold lino. Maybe he heard my Ma peeing and this set him off.

“Where will I get two quid from? is that thon tartan bastards that cannae sing?” my Ma shouted back over the noise of the loo flushing. I peeled some woodchip wall paper off as I waited…I put it in my mouth and quickly spat it out.

Major lifted a black claw and scratched my leg, his brown eyes pleading with me. This was useless.

“I am taking the dog out,” I whined back and grabbed the thick metal dog leash off the door handle in the lobby and clipped Major’s collar, only to be dragged off at speed and clattered down all the stairs in the close and yanked outside. My Jesus sandal buckle came undone and I hobbled about on the grass clods.

I needed to think of a plan to get two pounds to buy a tartan Bay City Rollers’ jumper; everyone at school had one except me. I needed one, why can’t adults just know I need one as well?

Major stood like a statue in the back yard and peed for about ten minutes (he never got out much and had a bladder this size of a scatter cushion). He kept one leg cocked whilst scanning the back court for pigeons or cats to attack the minute he was done pissing. He was always on the lookout for a victim was Major. He was an angry dog with long memories of being beaten by a floor brush as a puppy by previous owners, he was in luck in our house, my mammy rarely cleaned the place. I was getting bored.

“Hurry up, Major, I need to figure out how to get two quid!” I hissed at him.

Even my dog looked at me pitifully. He knew there was no chance of me getting that Bay City Roller jumper before the shops shut at 5pm. He finished his pee, scratched the ground with his back legs, flicking up pee-soaked soil over my jeans and tried to pull off the leash to chase imaginary cats. I couldn’t let him free; he would bite the first living thing he spotted and I couldn’t bear to get into a dog dispute today.

Our back yards were a square set of twenty blocks of flats with open closes which led through to the front streets; all the individual closes had penned-off back yards which were segregated by green painted railings. Major loved getting into other people’s yards.

I ran around the back court holding his leash letting him sniff bins, scratch at the ground and snuffle through the long grass near the railings. He looked up at me pleading to be let free. He wanted to run about but, every time I had let him go in the past, he slipped his bony body through the metal railings and shot off on a bite fest and, although I was wiry and fast, I couldn’t climb over those spiky fences and catch up with him. He was an expert escapist. Before I knew it he would be on the main road attacking pensioners and babies. He was mental and very scary looking.

“No, Major, you will run off and bite people!” I answered as he stared at me.

He sat on the cold ground and lifted a paw at me and gave me his best cute look. So I let the leash snap off his neck. He started walking slowly around our confined fenced yard lulling me into a false sense of security and then he suddenly shot off and leaped over the first fence in a flash. “Oh God!” I shouted and started after him. I climbed over three sets of metal railings as he slipped through or jumped over them and made off through the opened close of flats across the backyard. I saw his tail disappear through the close into the front street.

I panicked and kept climbing over the four foot high railings till I reached the close he had run through. I could hear screams from the front street. My heart was pounding. I was exhausted and sweating. Why did I let him go? On entering Vesalius Street, I saw one old woman with a steamie pram pinned up against a front garden fence with Major barking at her feet.

The dog spotted me and ran off in the direction of the big main road that ran through our wee scheme.

He had a go at the local priest and that wee man who isn’t the priest but always hangs about the chapel and has a club foot.

He slid past big lorries that trundled down the busy road; he sped through the traffic and made it to the opposite side of the road. It took me ages to let the traffic past before I could run across and chase after him. He barked and snarled at passers by. “Get that dog on a leash!” a man shouted. The leash was wrapped around my hand as I panted and gasped my way up the road. His pointy tail was visible and the barking kept me on his track.

Finally, he came to a stop. He watched me over his shoulder; he sat on the pavement quietly as I approached him stealthily. I fully expected him to bolt off again as I got closer, but he didn’t move. “Major, you bad dog!” I shouted as I clipped the leash on him. He just stared at me and padded off quietly.

My clothes were sticking to me with the sweat of running and jumping so fast. He merely hung his tongue out and happily jaunted off as if he was the happiest dog in Shettleston. We got stuck at the main road, the traffic was heavy, buses were speeding past and I was nervous crossing that road, as I had been knocked down by a car two years previously near the spot where we stood. It had taken me almost a year to walk again and, at twelve, I still had a slight limp.

I heard a familiar voice shout “Janey!” from one of the buses as it drove past. The bus stopped near me and loads of people spilled out of the back opening. There was my old favourite uncle John. “What are you doing out with that mad dog on the main road?” he asked.

“He ran away from me,” I explained.

Uncle John was my pal. He was a lot older than most of my uncles and had neither kids, nor a wife and was often ‘away’ though we were never told where. He never had a home of his own and usually stayed with family members and I loved him. He was quirky and had funny ways of explaining stuff. I once asked him why he never fought in the Second World War and he told me: “Well, you see, with all the men away, the women of Shettleston needed someone to replace their light bulbs in their lobbies and I didn’t have a fight with the Germans; they never personally upset me, so I don’t see why I should be a paid killer of someone else’s son.”

Turns out my old Uncle John was a bit of a ‘Lad’ and traded guns with crooks and never fought with anyone unless he had a personal gripe with them. He was occasionally in prison and never really settled with anyone anywhere.

“Look, here’s some money for you. Now don’t tell your Ma that I have cash. Say you found it,” he said and pulled a TEN POUND note from his pocket. Ten pounds was a fortune to me at twelve. I stared at the note; I don’t think I had seen a ten pound note close up in my own hand. Major sat quietly and wagged his tail at Uncle John; he was about the only visitor to our house that Major didn’t bite.

“That’s a lot of money, thanks Uncle John but I can’t say I found it. Are you sure you can give me this? I will need to say something,” I stuttered at Uncle John.

“Well, learn to lie and hide it, Janey,” he laughed and walked off.

I stared at the money in my hand. It felt so… wonderful and rich; the texture of the paper had me stroking it constantly – the swirly writing and just the overwhelming fact that I had ten pounds to myself made me feel giddy.

I immediately set off to the Co-op and dragged Major with me; I now had the dilemma of how to get into the shop with my dog. Major could not be tied up outside, he would bite folk.

The big glass door to the Co-op jangled as I entered. Major growled low in his throat. He hated new places. My dog was rather autistic and anal for a domesticated animal. Things set him off, like a door bell, a floor brush and he despised goldfish and fish tanks – he attacked them viciously – he tried to bite the glass fish bowl in my bedroom. He was like a drunk Oliver Reed.

“That dog can’t come in here!” the woman with a pinched face behind the counter shouted.

“I have ten pounds!” I shouted back and showed her my cash. “I just want a white Bay City Roller tartan jumper for my size,” I added and stood at the door.

She relented and I tied Major to the big pillar at the side of the counter. I begged him not to bite anyone or bark. The woman held out the acrylic top for me to see, I nodded and guessed it would fit me. She wrapped it up in brown paper, sellotaped the edges and held it to me. I tucked it under my arm and carefully wrapped the change into a small bundle and bent down to tuck it into my sock. Major licked my face as I bent down. “Stop that, Major, your breath stinks,” I giggled.

I ran for home with my parcel, Major trotting beside me and all the while thinking up a good lie to tell my Ma about the jumper. She could smell a lie and money in seconds and possessed the ability to get the truth out of anyone; I was surprised that she wasn’t an interrogator for the government.

I spotted the butcher’s shop on the way and decided to treat Major to some scraps, as he really did get me the jumper I reckoned. Major was barred from the local butcher’s as he would run in and try to drag a side of beef off the butcher’s hooks and was known for his daring raids, so I tied him to the lamppost outside. He wouldn’t bite anyone as he could smell the meat and that occupied him.

“Can I have a soup bone and a wee bit of liver please?” I asked. The butcher checked the door for Major. “He is tied up, Mr. Cross” I explained. “He is sorry about the dead cow he pulled down.”

The butcher smiled and wrapped up some liver and a big bloodied bone in greaseproof paper. “It’s OK, Janey, no charge for the scraps and keep that crazy dog back from my shop.”

Major wolfed down the wee bits of liver and chomped down on the bone and we both marched home, happily. I realised that, if Major had a bone in his mouth, he would never bite anyone, so maybe we had to keep him supplied with bones forever?

Ma was never told about the jumper or the cash, she never saw what I wore to school and it eventually turned up in the washing bag. I had duped her!

The change from the ten pounds was stuffed up the disused chimney shaft in my bedroom and I managed to eke it out for months, buying myself sweets and a chicken supper at the local chippy – all, of course, eaten outside in the back court with Major at my side.


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