Tuesday, 11 August 2009

More dead dogs

Holidays always make me reminisce, which accounts for another post involving family history. I've got no idea how boring a topic this is for readers. But I feel justified - if I don't write this stuff up, I can't think who else will. Yes, I owe it to future generations. Grand.

It follows similar lines to 'Tales of Welsh Tractors', in that it features canicide. Please don't get the wrong idea - my family likes dogs, almost all of the time. Having written it up, I also see some analogies with the play Jerusalem.

If you've read my previous post, you may know a bit about my Nain's family, the newly impoverished Thomases, who farmed a number of small tenancies in the valleys north of Cardiff. (If you haven't, this is all you need to know). The main farm used to stand on the slopes of one of those valleys, sitting above a typical industrial South Walian village.

I say 'used to stand' as it's finally been engulfed by the village's remorseless rise up the valley side - a few years ago the farm and its outbuildings were converted into quite nice commuter homes for Cardiffian professionals. I would guess its land is now devoted mostly to the pursuit of 'equine leisure' (I wouldn't be surprised if there were now more riding stables in the valleys than there were ever mines and foundries).

The 1950s saw the first big lurch upwards in this process of development with the construction of what would eventually become a very large council estate. At the time, Dad and his parents were living on the farm with a host of other relatives in what we would now call an extended family unit.

The new estate was built largely on the bottom fields of the farm, which must have been sold by the land's owner or compulsorily purchased. This upset the extended family unit and Dad decided to take action. Although just a young boy, he jumped on his horse, grabbed an axe, and proceeded to chop down all the builder's signs on the new development. For some reason, no action was taken once his misdemeanour was discovered.

Anyway, the estate went up, and was gradually extended. As was the already well-extended Thomas family unit, to such an extent that Dad and his parents overspilled into one of the council houses for a few years (you see, we're nearly all of us villagers, really).

However, this period of peaceful co-existence was not to last. As the 1960s wore on, the council house tenants, satisfied at finding themselves in their own place complete with back garden and on the edge of open fields, thought it would be nice to get themselves a dog.

They had the resources, space, the weekend leisure. However, when all householders went out to work for the day, what they didn't have was anyone at home to look after the creatures. And what a mess they made! Better turn them out in the mornings and let them in again when back from work.

But this led to daytime strays. And if you collect enough daytime strays together, you get packs. And when packs of dogs are free to roam neighbouring farmland you get what must be for dogs an exhilarating bit of fun: the sheep hunt.

The consequences were, I suppose, inevitable. A cutting from the local newspaper survived into my youth: one photo of Dad kneeling down, broken shotgun over his arm, inspecting a recently killed dog. Either in the background, or pictured in a separate photo (I forget) is a trailer, full of similarly dead dogs. In all he must have killed dozens of the bastards.

The story was reported in non-sensational terms, and was broadly, if sadly, sympathetic to Dad. But this was a time when farming was seen as a serious business, mostly concerned with the provision of food - this substance still being regarded as the stuff of life rather than a lifestyle accessory. I leave it to you to imagine how the story would be reported today, and whether Dad would have been well-advised to have his image in the paper.


Gadjo Dilo said...

Indeed. Your dad's actions would be applauded here, though with a quiet shrug rather than in any overt way that would attract the attentions of Brigitte Bardot.

Gaw said...

I'm sure the Romanians would have them turned into cosy hats too.

There's something really very scary about Bardot. I think it's those eyes. She would be capable of anything (unpleasant things, that is).