“PEST CONTROL TO PANTHER Z! COME IN PANTHER Z!” Unnerved by Albert’s less than dulcet tones, I almost hit the kerb!
“Panther Z! Are you receiving me! This is Pest Control! Repeat, this is Pest Control! Come in Panther Z!”
Now, Albert Scrum is not a man to be ignored. Realising he’d just keep upping the decibels until I replied, I decided the safest thing to do was stop as soon as I could. “This had better not be another errand to the sandwich shop!” I muttered under my breath. Albert had a nasty habit of getting his crew to fetch his dinner for him.
At last, after several minutes of non-stop earache from my radio, I saw a convenient parking space along Strewsbury Mold’s main highway and sighed gratefully as I drew to a halt. Relief however was short-lived. I couldn’t find the blasted receiver and, even when I eventually did, couldn’t decide which button to press. “Aww, why can’t we have Bluetooth like everybody else!?” I sighed. And all the time, Albert carried on. And on. And on. And on....
“PEST CONTROL TO PANTHER Z, come in, this is an emergency.....! Panther Z are you receiving me....PANTHER Z come in PLEASE! Panther Z.....”
“Oh shut UP Albert!” I yelled, not realising, of course, that I’d finally hit the right button, so my despairing cry could now be heard by everyone at Pest Control HQ.
Albert sounded quite offended. “No need to shout,” he said. “There’s never any need to shout.”
“So what’s the emergency, then,” I asked. “Have you run out of milk?”
“Ha Ha, very funny, I don’t think!” Albert replied. “As a matter of fact, it’s a matter of life and death. There’s a vicious dog marauding round St Mary’s Infant’s School. Better hurry before one of the kids gets savaged.”
“Say no more!” I said, revving the engine, “I’m on my way!”
Moments later, I turned into the Infant School’s main gates to witness an extraordinary sight. A somewhat portly lady was standing on a wheelie bin in one corner of the playground blowing her whistle with all her might. In the opposite corner, a group of 3 to 4-year-olds were huddled together, some screaming, others shrieking with delight, as a young and over-enthusiastic Border Collie surrounded them, slinking from one tot to another to make sure none would escape the ‘fold’.
The dinner lady blew her whistle again, unwittingly sending a new signal to the collie. Leaving his charges, he darted suddenly towards another group of children and, after singling out a particularly defiant toddler, began weaving and circling and yapping, encouraging the boy to join his playmates in the corner, just as he would a particularly obstinate sheep.
On catching sight of me, the dinner lady stopped whistling long enough to exclaim, “Thank goodness you’re here! That dog’s been rounding up children for the last half hour! Goodness knows what their parents will say!”
“Has he bitten anyone?” I asked.
The dinner lady looked blank. “No...at least I don’t think so. But he’s obviously a danger....I mean LOOK at him!”
By now, the dog had gathered his latest acquisition to the fold and flopped down onto his belly, ears pricked up, alert to any potential escapees.
“He’s just following his instincts,” I said. “After all, herding’s what collies do.”
“Excuse my ignorance,” came the sarcastic reply, “But last I heard, collies were meant to herd SHEEP. Not infants!” She was so angry, she nearly fell off the wheelie bin.
“Ah well, that’s the problem. Border collies need work to do and if there’s no sheep around, well.... They’re not really town dogs, you know.”
“So now he’s David Attenborough!” The dinner lady sniffed contemptuously. “You’re supposed to be a dog catcher, so do your job and catch the ruddy thing!”
Now this is a gross misconception. Most dog wardens are, like yours truly, genuine dog lovers, not sidekicks to Cruella De Ville! I was just about to tell the lady that when Albert’s voice boomed out from the radio again.
“PEST CONTROL TO PANTHER Z! Come in Panther Z! This is an emergency!”
“Oh no, you don’t!” said the dinner lady as I made for the van. “You’re not going anywhere until you’ve rescued those poor children from that nasty, evil animal!”
Torn between the insistent Albert Scrum and the angry dinner lady, I decided to deal with the latter – even though the dog was quite happily wagging his tail and tenderly caring for his ‘flock’. Besides, she was the one within striking distance and, I fancied, had a formidable right hook.
I whistled and, immediately, the collie leapt up and trotted towards me, earning himself a pat on the head for his obedience.
“Good boy!” I said. “You see?” I said to the dinner lady, “He’s quite gentle really. In fact, there’s many teachers I know who’d pay to have a helper like him.” The woman merely sniffed again, disdainfully.
Ignoring her, I turned to the dog. “Okay mate! Into the van with you. It’s time to get you home to your owners.”
Now there was only Albert to deal with. He was still shouting as I started the engine and drove away from the school.
“Pest Control to Panther Z......!”
“Yes! What IS it Albert?”
This question was met by an aggrieved silence.
“That is the wrong procedure,” said Albert.
“Okay, okay, now just give me the message.”
But there was no such thing as ‘just’ where Albert was concerned. “Unless you follow the correct procedure, I’m unable to convey instructions.....”
“You must be joking.....!”
Albert was insistent. “Unless you follow the correct procedure.....!”
“All right!” I yelled. “Panther Z to Pest Control. Receiving you! Loud and Clear! NOW can I have the message?”
“Okay Panther Z, this is your next assignment. Proceed to Strewsbury Mold shopping centre and purchase 1 steak & kidney pie, 1 bag of chips and 1 large custard!”