Friday, 18 May 2012

Phantom dogs on a dark night

The big pear carving job went off yesterday, after a strenuous 2 hours getting it into the back of a van.  If he drops it - too likely for comfort - that will be me bankrupt at a time of life when it would be difficult for me to recover.  Not to worry.

That's the trouble with me, I don't worry enough.  That job was the last hands-on job that I have for the foreseeable future, but I'm not worried.  Something always turns up, and if the worst comes to the worst, I can always get myself a job on a cruise-liner, partnering rich, elderly widows in a tango.  I suppose I should learn to tango as soon as possible.  Solo tango - a new dance which involves leaning backwards at impossible angles if you are a woman, and forwards if you are a man...

Anyway, what was I going on about?  Oh yes, tramps.

Before I hitched up with H.I.  and took on the rest of her family, I thought it quite likely that I would spend my finals years as a charcoal-burner or something, living in a hut in a wood all winter, and strolling between country pubs all summer.  I still quite like the idea - well the last bit anyway.

One of my many friends pulled up in the street the other day, parking an absolutely enormous box-lorry which he had converted into a camper.  It used to be a mobile library - sometime in the late 1960s, by the look of it.  He gave me a tour of the inside, proudly showing off the smallest wood-burning stove I have ever seen.  Then he asked if I wanted to buy the whole outfit, and I was very tempted until he quoted the price:  £12,000.  He's having a laugh, isn't he?

Well, maybe he isn't.  Living without a roof over your head is becoming increasingly impossible in Britain these days, partly due to the expense of it.  It is ironic really, as most roofless people choose that way of simple life to save money, apart from anything else.  At the top end, a well-appointed camper-van can set you back £100,000 before running and parking expenses, and at the bottom end, it can cost you £20 per night to pitch a one-man tent.

I spent a month or two living in a tent which was set up in a dense wood adjacent to Cro's and my friend Simon, many years ago, on the Hampshire border with Surrey.  I bought the tent new, pitched it deep in the wood, painted it with camouflage and placed foliage around it so that it could not be seen until you tripped over the guy-ropes - which is what I did every night.

I practised a few location techniques in the daylight before I moved in, and this involved counting some telegraph poles which ran along the track next to the wood, turning into the wood at the third pole, walking in with my hands outstretched until I hit a certain tree, turning a certain angle and walking for about 50 yards until I hit another tree, changing my angle and walking in another 50 yards until I tripped over the guy-ropes of the tent, and then I was home.  This was all done for real in the dark, of course.

The woods - ancient enough to be mentioned in the Domesday Book - were full of great clumps of densely growing hazel, and one night I took a slightly wrong turn and found myself somehow trapped in the very middle of one of these clumps, unable to get out.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but despite struggling for about 20 minutes, all I did was get myself more entwined with the upright branches of the clump, and - it being pitch-dark - I could not see where to place my leg to lift the other out, so I was well and truly stuck.

I was so hopelessly stuck that I decided that the best thing to do was make myself as comfortable as possible, then try and get some sleep until the daylight came and I could see what I was doing.  Just as I had settled down and resigned myself to a night in the tree, I heard the sound of something very large crashing through the undergrowth toward me...

My heart froze as the thing got closer, and before long I was aware of two extremely large dogs panting into my face as I sat helplessly entangled in the undergrowth.

I waited to be attacked, but the attack never came.  Instead, the dogs waited patiently as I made another attempt to get free, and somehow their presence made this possible when previously it had not been.  I stretched my hand out and felt the coarse, hairy fur of both dogs, but I could not see them at all in the darkness of the wood.  They were about the same size and texture as Irish Wolf-Hounds - absolutely huge - and I had never been aware of any dogs in the neighbourhood until that night.

I disentangled myself from the tree, and the dogs trotted off into the darkness expecting me to follow, which I did.  If they got ahead of me and I lost them, they came back to fetch me, then continued into the wood with me close behind.

In this way, they lead me right up to the zip of my camouflaged tent.  I patted them in thanks, and they went off back into the wood, never to be seen again.

When I recanted this story to Simon  the next day, he told me that there was an ancient local legend of two hounds that haunted this particular little forest, and suggested that these must have been the beasts that came to help me.

Now, I know that Simon likes to tell a tall tale, but it did have the ring of truth to it at the time.  I enquired if anyone in the area owned a pair of dogs like them, but found none.


  1. There's so much to comment on in this post but what really worries me is "one of my many friends". I'm concerned that we, your blogging comrades, are diluted by their proliferation. Are we not special?

    1. Are we not men? We are DEVO. DEE EE VEE OOH. Well you're special, Mise, you pink-daughter'd mother, you.

  2. What a cool story - and there are a few around similar. Ian McEwan's Black Dogs was a much darker version.
    As Old Salt always tells me, dogs are the best people.

    1. Quite right - they make the best phantoms as well.

  3. There's a very eerie story, well legend really, of 'Shuck' around the East Anglia area. A huge phantom hound, jet black shaggy coat and large saucer sized, bright red eyes that prowls the coastal paths and byways of the surrounding countryside.

    Here's an interesting link with some eye witness accounts.

    On the occasions where I have been beachcasting on the shores around Sheringham and West Runton, some of the stretches of coastline feel quite remote and are a regular haunt for Shuck.

    Just seeing the dog is supposed to be a sign of grave portent for the witness or close family member...

    1. Thanks Chris - I'll look that up with gusto (my pet phantom wolf-hound).

  4. Reminds me of my " man with a log " story from last year
    Loved it

    1. Refresh our memories - PLEEEEEEEEZE Uncle John! (I mean it x)

  5. Replies
    1. Dogging wasn't invented in those days. We had to stand around wanking on our own, in the dark. I remember it well.