ONE Sunday evening almost half a century ago, my parents returned home with an extra passenger in the car – a tiny puppy. While out for a drive they had stopped at a kennels in the Rossendale Valley with a sign outside: ‘Border collie pups for sale’.
The owners took them to a shed with a cage containing a great many juvenile dogs of all shapes and sizes. One of the smallest came up to the wire, looked at Mum with soulful eyes and licked her fingers. Love at first sight.
She held him in the palm of her hand on the journey home. He could have been barely seven weeks old. I was allowed to choose his name and I went for Kevin, after the musician Kevin Coyne, whom I’d recently interviewed and liked greatly.
For the first few days Kevin was terribly sick and had to be bottle-fed, but soon he rallied round and became a robust and cheerful chap. However a border collie he clearly wasn’t. He looked more like a beagle than anything.
Mum and dad returned to the kennels, and complained that they’d been sold a pup. ‘OK then’, said the owners, ‘hand him back and we’ll refund your money.’
‘We’re not doing that,’ said mum. ‘We love him.’
A compromise was reached whereby half the purchase price was returned and everyone was happy. Especially young Kev, who was spoilt rotten. (We later discovered that the kennels was no better than a puppy farm and there were prosecutions over insanitary and cruel conditions.)
Kevin rewarded his deliverance by proving to be a placid and lovely pet, very intelligent. He invented his own game where he would run to the top of a slope in the park and roll a rubber ball down to my feet. I would chip it and he would catch it in his jaws. One day a teacher passed by with a group of juniors and he told them: ‘Look, a dog that understands gravity.’ On the playing field, Kevin would crouch behind a goalpost while I placed the ball on the penalty spot, then fly through the air like a diving goalkeeper to save the resulting shot. When I left home, he came with me.
He never showed the slightest interest in other dogs of either sex, even when a bitch was in season. A vet who examined him opined that he was naturally asexual – born without the right internal equipment. It was the lack of testosterone that made him so affable.
He did have his embarrassing moments, however. Once we were on holiday in Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire, a cliffside village with steps everywhere. As I rounded a corner with Kevin on the lead, we encountered a man in green drainpipe trousers standing stock still and looking in a shop window. Well, you know what dogs do on drainpipes. Before I knew it Kev had cocked his leg. The bloke took it quite well, considering.
Anne Robinson, she of The Weakest Link and now Countdown fame, used to have a column in the Daily Mirror in which she once bemoaned the lack of originality in pets’ names, concluding: ‘Whoever heard of a dog called Kevin, for example?’
I wrote to her in the name of my daughter Caroline, enclosing a picture of our lad. She sent back a sweet reply by return of post, thanking her for the letter and adding: ‘I think your Kevin is lovely.’
Late one night, when Kevin was 15, we found him whimpering and unable to move. We took him to a 24-hour vet, who said he’d had a heart attack and would not recover, suggesting an injection to put him out of his misery. Saying goodbye to him was one of the saddest things I’ve ever done. Rest in peace, old friend.
Press Club tales, Part 2
SOME time ago I mentioned the Manchester Press Club, where a group of print workers refused to let Alex Higgins and Jimmy White on to the snooker table.
The steward of the club was a Spaniard by the name of Gerry Crespo, whose grasp of English had failed to improve much despite having spent several decades in this country. On the eve of a holiday flight to Malaga, from where I needed to take a taxi to the town of Nerja, I feared the driver might not have any English so I gave Gerry a notepad and asked him to write on it in Spanish: ‘How much is the taxi fare to Nerja?’
Very much in the manner of Manuel from Fawlty Towers, Gerry threw his arms in the air and exasperatedly exclaimed: ‘How should I know how much is the taxi fare to Nerja!’
Keeping your titfer dry . . .
THERE used to be a folk-club comedian named Bob Williamson who it seemed was never off Granada TV in the North West – presumably because he lived in Bolton and was available at short notice when someone else dropped out.
I remember one of his early appearances when he recalled a childhood visit with his father to Burnden Park, home of Bolton Wanderers Football Club. On the opposite side of the ground was an open stand, populated entirely by old chaps in overcoats and flat caps.
It began to rain and, as one, the ancients removed their caps and placed them safely in a coat pocket.
‘Why are they doing that, dad?’ asked Bob.
‘Well, you can’t expect a bloke to sit at home all night in a wet cap.’
Williamson also began one routine by saying: ‘I played a gig in Cumbria last night; a place called Excremont.’
Like many other northern comics including the great Tony Capstick, the ever-available Bob made cameo appearances on Coronation Street. He also featured as a hopeless auditioner in Phoenix Nights (fellow Boltonian Peter Kay was a big fan). And he appeared on Wheeltappers and Shunters, a bizarre parody of a working men’s club, which you can see here.
Bob died in 2016, aged 67, a sad loss to the North.
A PS from PG
He looked haggard and careworn, like a Borgia who has suddenly remembered that he has forgotten to shove cyanide in the consommé, and the dinner-gong due any moment.
PG Wodehouse: Carry On, Jeeves