“Of trainspotting dogs and shades of purple”
A few weeks into the job and, much to Albert’s irritation, I still hadn’t established a routine. Not through any lack of efficiency, I hasten to add; it’s just that, unlike people, dogs that stray, make nuisances of themselves or get stolen or lost, don’t do so to schedule. To most of my charges, 9 to 5 means absolutely nothing, whereas to me it often means being called upon at any time of day or night.
So, inevitably, there were occasions when I failed to show at Pest Control HQ at 7am precisely, as demanded of my fellow employees.
“I don’t expect special treatment!” I argued.
“Tell that to Batty or Worth!” sneered Albert, who seemed in a particularly foul mood.
Worth agreed. “Wish I could wander in at all hours in the morning……”
“Aye, an’ clocking off at 3!” said Batty. “Rest of us have to work regular shifts. Unlike some.”
Pleased to have caused a rift between my colleagues and me, Albert leaned back in his chair with a satisfied snort. “See! Told you they didn’t like it!”
“That’s all very well,” I began. “But someone who finds a few fleas on their carpet can wait until daylight, whereas dogs running rampant or in some kind of distress need help straightaway. I mean, how would YOU like being called out at 2 o’clock in the morning ‘cos someone’s dog’s been run over or fallen into a slurry pit? Bet you wouldn’t turn out, would you?”
“I would!” insisted Batty. “If there was a poor little rat in trouble, I’d….I’d….”
Everyone turned to look at him, surprised by this sudden burst of emotion. Aware that he’d drawn attention to himself and his previously undetected love of rodents, he trailed off mid-sentence.
“Ted! I never knew you cared!” exclaimed Worth, not unsympathetically.
“Just ‘cos I exterminate rats for a living doesn’t mean I don’t like them” bristled Batty.
Albert smirked. “Now I’ve heard everything! What about you, Worth? Fallen for any tasty cockroaches recently?”
Fortunately, the telephone put an end to his sniggering. Albert answered it with his customary yell.
“PEST Control! What!? A dog!? Where!?” He reached for his pen and, instead of passing the phone to me, started scribbling down the details. No doubt this gave him a sense of control but, as I could never read his terrible scrawl, was yet another bone of contention. I sighed, knowing another 5 or 10 minutes would be wasted. After finishing the phone call with his customary curtness, he handed me the chad-torn page from his notebook.
“If I gave this note to a chemist, he’d make it up!” I said, trying to decipher the instructions. All I could make out was the word ‘station’. “Which station?”
“You know - The one with all the trains?” replied Albert. “Choo-choo-choo!” And he laughed unpleasantly at his own wit.
“It might have escaped your notice, Mr Scrum, but there are several stations in the area....”
“Want the co-ordinates?” Albert snapped, “Maybe you’d like an ordnance survey map while you’re at it!!”
“Just the name of the station, that’s all.” I replied, as politely as I could.
After finally wresting the information from Albert, I set off for Marchington Station, a few miles out of town. The station master, a cheery man in his fifties pointed to the latticed railway bridge nearby where a terrier cross was gazing longingly down the track, waiting for the London express.
“He’s there every day, watching trains go by, and he’s never usually a bother. But one of the passengers complained so we had to report it.” As he was speaking, the dog’s ears pricked up and it started shuffling its front paws, yapping with anticipation. The station master grinned. “Ahhh, the 10.55! He can hear it coming from 20 miles away. Just watch!”
It was another couple of minutes before we too could hear the soft rumbling of a distant engine, by which time the animal was dancing, hardly able to contain itself. At last, I saw the train approach, travelling at great speed.
“Stand back!” warned the station master. “Express trains come through here at 90mph!” Obediently, I stepped away from the edge of the platform. The terrier, however, had no such fears but was jumping fearlessly from side to side, barking, yelping and wagging his tale frantically. Although his joy was obvious to me, I could see why anyone not used to dogs might be a little concerned at having to walk past him.
Whoosh! Right on schedule, the 10.55 express flew by, dragging my cap along in its wake. As I ran up the platform to retrieve my errant headwear, the force from the train reached a crescendo, echoed by the dog on the bridge above us, howling as loudly and for as long as his lungs would let him.
Cap and dog now safely under control, I escorted the runaway to his home a couple of streets away. Good job he was wearing a collar with an address tag, otherwise I’d have had to take him down to the police station instead, something I tried to avoid whenever possible. (The sight of me has already got the duty sergeant’s eyes rolling skywards – all those extra forms!)
Nobody was in. I sighed. This was a common problem, dogs left to their own devices day after day while owners were at work or school. Fortunately, on this occasion, I’d misjudged the owners. “There he is!” cried a young woman, followed by an older woman who was negotiating a push chair up the drive. Having seen my dog warden van parked outside her house, she looked rather shamefaced. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to let him out, but as soon as I open the door, he streaks past me and doesn’t come home for hours. We seem to spend all our time searching for him.”
“Well, in future you won’t have far to look,” I said and told her about her pet’s obsession.
“Fancy that!” she exclaimed. “My brother Tim’s a train enthusiast. Maybe he could take Rooney with him on excursions.”
“Good idea,” I said. ”Although you’ll have to get him kitted out first.”
“Oh? What with?” asked the owner, genuinely intrigued.
“Well, a proper lead might help,” I suggested. “And something no self-respecting train-spotter should be without….
‘A waterproof anorak.”
From then on, Rooney continued to take his station on the bridge, the railway staff agreed to keep their eye on him and passengers came to welcome his endearing presence. And, occasionally, his owner would accompany him, complete with toddler.
Meanwhile, back at the van….”PEST Control to Panther Z! Come in Panther Z! Are you receiving me?”
“Panther Z receiving you. What is it?”
“There’s a strange dog running rampant round the trading centre at Bagley Wold.”
“What’s so strange about it?” I inquired.
“You’ll find out,” said Albert, sounding very mysterious. “A load of rubbish if you ask me.”
“Thanks Albert. That’s really helpful, I don’t think. Will I need a grasper? Special equipment?”
“A good pair of sunglasses might come in handy.” But beyond that, Mr Scrum kept firmly shtum.
“So now he’s moonlighting for MI6!” I muttered to myself. Why did everything have to be so flipping confidential all the time? I continued grumbling under my breath for another two miles or so until a weird looking creature darted straight across my path, forcing me to brake. I swerved violently to avoid hitting the animal which vaguely resembled a dog, then pulled into the kerb to get a better look. The spectre had gone.
“I’m sure that was a dog!” I thought yet, despite several years with the RSPCA and a love of animals since I was chewing rusks, on this occasion I just couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t even blame the demon drink, having imbibed nothing stronger than Pest Control’s PG Tips all week. Then I glanced into my rear mirror. There it was again, lolloping along the highway, cool as you please, looking for all the world like a sleek Saluki. Only purple. Not just any purple, you understand. Not the kind of purple favoured by the blue-rinse brigade. This was a deeply dazzling, brilliantly luminous purple, as eye-catching as any Technicolor dream coat.
Now I understood what Albert meant about wearing shades. I remember hearing about certain dog owners who, having nothing better to do, dyed their pets to match their outfits. Although any garment in that particular shade would hardly prove flattering.
Emerging from the van, leash in hand, I whistled to the dog which broke obligingly into a run and made a bee-line for me.
“Come on, Chappie!” I called. “Let’s see what’s happened to you then.”
It didn’t take long to find out EXACTLY what had happened. In one bound, the dog leapt up to lick my face, leaving purple paw-prints all over my uniform. “Eeeuuu!”
At that moment, a panda car drew up beside me and Charlie Matthews wound down his window, grinning from ear to ear.
“You’ll have a job getting that off,” he crowed. “Gloss by the look of it!”
“Thank you Charlie. I HAD noticed.” To add insult to injury, my Saluki friend chose that moment to give his coat a vigorous shake. Now I had purple spots all over me, much to Charlie’s amusement.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Mr Blobby! Aw, if I only had a camera!”
“What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Same as you, I expect. Someone reported a strange creature running riot….but it seems you got here first!” And he had the cheek to shake his head in mock disappointment. “Tough call! Still, in this case, it seems the best man won!”
By now we’d been joined by the manager of the local paint factory.
“You caught him, then?” he said. He went on to explain how the Saluki had strayed into the factory and somehow fallen into a large vat of paint. “We tried to fish him out but he was too nimble for us. Still he’s in good hands now, I see.”
“Could you do us a favour and hold him for me while I make room in my van.“ I asked.
“What, me?” was the reply. “Not likely. I’d get covered in paint!”
“What about you, PC Matth….?”
But Charlie was already accelerating away.
Read the first chapter here:
Read the first chapter here: