Friday, 5 March 2010

Wooden dog-tongs

I've just started reading Peter Conradi's uncategorisable and marvellous 'At the Bright Hem of God'. It's a rumination on the area of the Welsh Marches more or less covered by Radnorshire. It takes in history, memoir, literature and various reflections and observations written by a man of letters and immigrant to this remote and sparsely populated area of hills, moors and valleys.

The title comes from a Welsh folk stanza, translated by RS Thomas who worked as a curate near to Conradi's home in the county (the place where Lorna Sage also happened to grow up):
Let the stranger, if he will,
Have his way with the glen,
But give us to live
At the bright hem of God
In the heather, in the heather.

Nearly every page contains some striking insight, fact or description. Most recently this on dogs of the March, a précis from the self-published memoir of a Cardiganshire farmer, Erwyd Howells, who:
...has studied dogs, believing they repay that effort: his first dog hung himself and he quickly learnt to tether a dog better. They were at their best from four years old, and bitches allowed to litter were often more eager to work. There were children who took their sheep-dogs to school, tying them up for the day before helping someone with their stock in the evenings. Dogs attended church so often that some churches had wooden dog-tongs to drag fighting curs outside. One dog could when needed, fetch a peat-turf; another (his) could both climb a ladder and then open the hatch-door above. And - movingly - he tells of a dying shepherd who, asked by the pastor for his final wish, opted to "see a good dog". Only this, he knew, might now cheer him up.

Dog-tongs I'd like to see. One collie or two vicar? It's full of similar delights and I shall, no doubt, be returning to it.

6 comments:

zmkc said...

I bet they were collies, the best - although most demanding - of dogs. More extracts please.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Charming! Pickles the dog, of 1966 Jules Rimet Trophy fame, also hung himself - while chasing a cat.

ghostofelberry said...

Dobermanns are the peak of doggishness but really all dogs are a thing of glory.

jonathan law said...

I'm also reading the Conradi book at the moment and finding it everything you say (though I'd also put in a word for the rather nice pen-and-ink illustrations by Simon Dorrell).

Seren, the publishers, seem to put out an extraordinary range of top-notch stuff for such a small press. Based somewhere near Swansea, I think.

And if anyone's trying and failing to visualise a pair of dog tongs, there's a useful-looking example here.

jonathan law said...

Not sure that link worked -- it's:

http://www.bmagic.org.uk/objects/1965T4898

Gaw said...

zmkc: Lot of energy, collies. I was regularly nipped (or nearly nipped if I was quick enough) by collies when I was a boy.

Gadjo: Ah, tragic but so often the case: chercher la chatte...

Elberry: You're a rude and shameless bastard and no mistake.

Jonathan Law: I've come across Seren before but can't remember where. Perhaps it was RS Thomas-related?

Thanks for the brilliant picture.