When I was small I longed to have a dog, a wish never fulfilled. There were others in a similar boat and we competed with each other to walk the dogs of housebound old ladies. I don’t know if we were a blessing or curse, knocking at random doors and offering to take whatever dog they had for a walk. Sometimes we got paid, but that wasn’t the point. Nor were we being charitable. We were dogless and desperate.
I took every kind of dog, collies, terriers, alsatians— never a dachshund though. There’s always a line not to be crossed. Even now I can still feel the pull of the lead, becoming an extension of the dog pulling it.
But why wasn’t I born four or more decades earlier, born in small Glouceshire village of Uley. Dogs? Pshaw! Those kids played with a 200lb gorilla called John Daniels.
It was an orphan, its parents killed by French officers in the Gabon. A sailor brought it to London, where it ended up in the window of Derry and Thoms Department Store with a price tag of £300. It was sold to a British Major who gave it as a present to his sister, Alyce Cunningham.
Alyce Cunningham took its training in hand. The animal made his own bed, helped with the washing up and partook of afternoon tea. He was a versatile creature at home in town and country. Alyce Cunningham dressed him as a boy from very early on and allowed him to play with her niece and her friends. Occasionally he accompanied her in a taxi to London Zoo, where he’d ogle the ladies and urinate in front of male challengers. At night he was allowed three large whiskies to ease his melancholia.
The highlight for John Daniels, was his annual trip to Miss Cunningham’s home village of Uley in Gloucestershire where he learned to appreciate cider, rose bushes and playing with children, sometimes accompanying them on long walks—stopping at cottages he knew to have cider.
Eventually John Daniels grew too large for the aging Miss Cunningham and she sold it to Barnums circus who dispatched it to America where it sickened and died in 1921