Tiger in the night!
When I started my first teaching job I arranged to stay with an elderly widow, Mrs Jackson, and her companion, Miss Smith. The house was a mass-produced semi-detached, three-bedroom villa, many thousands of which were built in England during the nineteen thirties. I had a bedroom to myself and was provided with breakfast and an evening meal. Mrs Jackson had a fully rounded, deep-throated Dutch or German accent. Miss Smith, who was entirely English in speech and manner, had been her maid when Mr Jackson had been alive. Now the two old women were inseparable. They shared the main bedroom at the front of the house. I had a room of similar size at the back. There was, as usual in those villas, a very small third bedroom over the stairs.
They had a bulldog called Tiger, bow legged with broad, deep chest, jowled face and terrifying. He was not striped like a real tiger, but mottled in brown, black and white in an irregular pattern. I do not know if this is unusual for a bulldog. He ignored me almost entirely. If we met in the hall or on the garden path, it was I who stood aside. Mrs Jackson showed me wooden crosses where the bodies of Tiger 1 and Tiger 2 were buried in the garden. This was Tiger number three.
I was hoping to marry within a year or two. Jean, who had not yet actually agreed to the wedding, had a pathological fear of dogs. When she heard that my landlady had a bulldog, she refused to go near the place. She never visited me there and when I said I did not object to being in the same house as a dog, I suspect she became a little doubtful about getting any nearer to me.
Tiger was fed only on the best and most expensive meat. The only time I saw him having dinner, he stopped chomping and stared up at me suspiciously, so I withdrew. I never went near him again at meal times. I suspect the rent I paid all went down his throat.
Tiger took the women out for a walk every afternoon. He pulled them along wherever he felt like going and it was as much as they could do to keep up. After a while the dog would flop down with his four legs spreadeagled, and remain, panting and glowering at his servants. This might happen anywhere, even in the middle of the road. The women were not strong enough to move him. Resident local motorists knew they had to look out for the trio, who sometimes caused minor traffic jams. Tooting horns would not shift them. Fortunately Tiger never ventured onto the main roads where cars would not be able to stop in time.
I mentioned him at school. Mr Harvey, my headmaster, told me he often saw the two women struggling with the dog as he was cycling home. He had to ride round the three of them. The women argued and pleaded, pulling the lead. They carried with them a large bottle of water and a dish. As he lay, scowling and puffing, they put the dish full of water under his nose. After drinking he would tow them off again. I think this dog knew exactly what he was doing. This was his territory and he was king.
After I had been living there a few weeks, I was woken in the middle of the night by loud screaming, banging and clattering sounds from the bedroom where Mrs Jackson and Miss Smith slept. Had they been attacked? Were they being murdered by an intruder? I was out of my own bed at once and outside their door wondering what to do. I realised at once that the dog was involved. The women were still screaming, so at least they were still alive. Whatever Tiger had done, they could still shout. I dared not burst in to rescue them. The clattering and screaming stopped suddenly. Things calmed down. After pausing for a minute or two I went back to bed for an uneasy night.
In the morning Mrs Jackson apologised. Tiger would not sleep anywhere but in their bedroom. Sometimes he would decide it was time for a game, get up, grab a hairbrush from their dressing table, jump onto the bed and belabour the two old girls, requiring them to throw the brush for him to pick it up and bring it back to repeat the exercise. When he had had enough fun he would flop down like a starfish on his bit of the carpet.
I lived at Mrs Jackson’s for almost a year. The game at night happened every now and then, I suppose about once a month. I learned to take no notice, though sleep was impossible while it was going on.
Jean and I did marry and at first lived in a flat only a few minutes walk from Tiger’s house. Mrs Jackson came to see us there once. Fortunately, Tiger was not with her. I don’t know how she had managed to escape.