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Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The Dog and the Mangle

For my children who will never enjoy the simple pleasure of mangling wet washing, or teachers and other enemies of the people. Ours was squeezed into the kitchen.

Our kitchen was a 4ft by 6 ft box large enough for a sink, stove, and mangle. It also held a small fridge and an over-large cabinet that held everything else. The best parties are held in the kitchen, they say, but not in ours, though it once held a dog.

A mystery dog, referred to, but only in one iconic story. It was a bull terrier that held pride of place in 14 Ribblesdale, until our mother came along. Our dad spoke of it with pride but it was always the same story. It began with a knock on the front door and my mother, not wishing the dog to run out, tied it to the mangle table before answering it.. The caller kept her talking for some time and then left. When she turned round she found the dog half-way down the hall and half choking and dragging the mangle table behind him. The story ended with nods of approval from senior members of the family, well, the men at least. ‘Bull terriers never bark warning,’ ‘when they bite, they’ll never let go’ and ‘they’re loyal to a fault.’

We never got to find that out because our mother fought to make the house a pet-free zone. We did however get to use the mangle, which was the C19th answer to the spin dryer. Clothes were squeezed between two large rollers, and in the days before television, it represented one of the smaller highlights of the week, because ‘only strong boys could turn the handle to a mangle.’ And simple ones.

Eventually we wore our mum down. It began, like most things with deceit. She had gone off for a long weekend with our dad and we were staying with our grandparents at 24 Helsby. Now that was a treat, even better than the mangle. She took us to ‘The Wizard’s Den’ in Dale St. where we stocked up on itching powder and other essential sundries, and we persuaded her to take us to a pet shop in the same street.
“Are you sure, boys?”
“Yes, mum gave us the money to buy a small pet.”

It was a case of wish becoming reality and we brought back an albino guinea pig and two hamsters, maybe a mouse or two. She allowed us to keep them in a dressing table drawer until we got home, and only now do I fully realise how tolerant she was, and how gullible - or possibly mischievous.

As I remember our dad was amused and we were allowed to keep them in a hastily constructed cage in the back yard. It was the thin end of the wedge. We acquired a small Dutch Rabbit that was never to be allowed into the house. Only one day our mother accidentally stood on its leg, causing it to limp. From then on she was called Susie and was allowed into the kitchen where she followed our mum like a small, well trained cat. From there we moved on to hedgehogs and we ended up with a pets’ graveyard, big enough for a Stephen King novel.

Eventually the flood-gates opened wider than was good for us, though we didn’t think so at the time. Our uncle John, now a lorry driver, brought home two wild English rabbits - they may have been hares - they were bloody big. How, or why he caught them God only knows, but he brought them to 14 Ribblesdale.

These were big beasts, and fierce. They drove away cats and took umbrage at not being allowed into the house. Several times they tried jumping over the wall, but never quite made it, and they intimidated us as we ate. There’s a risible horror movie about giant killer rabbits. They came from Aintree.

Our table was directly next to the window and as we ate, first one and then the other would leap onto the window-sill and bang their heads against the glass, or else just stare at us. Daring us to eat. I think Hitchcock blew it with ‘The Birds.’ He should have made ‘The Rabbits.’

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