When we bought a house, but were still living in our flat in Durban, Dave and Goldie Hill presented us with a magic little feisty puppy, half Staffie half Jack Russell, delivered in a shoebox. We called her TC.
She was joined soon after we moved in to our home in Westville by my big rival for Aitch’s affections: Matt the man, named Matt cos he certainly wasn’t glossy at first.
Matt died on the M13 on the hunt for an intriguing smell which he knew was important and exciting, he just didn’t know why! He was only two-plus years old, so I’d guess he probably died a virgin. Our property was fenced but obviously not escape-proof.
After much mourning and a burial in the garden, Matt’s replacement was chosen, also in a backyard, also of interesting parentage. Trish Humphrey always thought she’d call a dog “Bogart” one day, and so Bogart got his name. To TC’s disgust a second small male dog was introduced and – again – he soon outgrew her. She always remained boss-dog though!
About two years later Bogart also went missing. I searched again and found him on a highway. This time the N3. Another burial in the garden followed.
Poor TC now had another black dog join her, a third!! Also small, also soon to grow big. This time a lady, Bella, who was destined to become a huge part of our, and especially Trish’s life for the next seventeen years. She, too, was of interesting parentage.
TC ran out of steam after thirteen years and is the third and last of our dogs we buried at 7 River Drive Westville, near the banks of the Mkombaan under a paper-bark commiphora tree. Bella was then joined by Honey, ‘rescued from euthenasia’ at the vet. He’d apparently been sentenced to death for excessive wandering! Aitch said ‘can’t be!’ and took him home. Well, little did she know just how determined a wanderer was old Honey. Jess christened him Honey, and he was mostly called that, but once his habits became evident I called him Houdini.
Houdini disappeared, maybe ‘rescued’ again by someone who finally managed to coop him up permanently? I hope not. I hope he wanders still. Now Bella was alone and Aitch decided she was lonely. No, no, I said, she’s enjoying the peace and quiet! So I put my foot down and issued a decree as titular Man of the House: We Cannot Get Another Puppy.
So Aitch got two: Shadow and Sambucca.
Shadow was a lovely dog but became our first dog to be euthanased. She bit a neighbour kid and then did it again. Sam is still around, twelve-plus years old and when cleaning out the garage recently I found a very novel item: A pedigree certificate! Aitch had hidden from me that Sam was our first dog without character and lacking in hybrid vigour! (Read about Sambucca’s parents here).
Jessie named the black lab ‘Sweetie’ – horrors! So we scrambled to find a better name: Terry Brauer suggested Black Sambucca and that stuck, thank goodness. She and Bella became good friends – Aitch was right again! Bella finally breathed her last in Aitch’s arms at seventeen – she had been a champ!
Poor ole Sambucca is ageing rapidly now. Eighty five in human years, she has a tumour growing apace on the side of her face. So far she’s still comfortable, eating – though losing weight – and tail-waggingly keen for a tummy rub. Her vet says keep her comfy and keep watch, but an op would likely be too drastic and risky for her.
Our first dog TC was the product of a romantic liaison – a match made in heaven. Staffordshire Terrier Stan Hill jumped Jack Russel Terrier Mouse Hill and she produced a litter. Dave and Goldie’s Sir Stanley Staffordshire of Melrose Farm in Mid-Illovo was a semi-handsome, tuxedo-clad, white-gloved, almost-pedigree Staffie who’d lost his papers, but we were assured he was in the country legitimately. And they knew who his Mom was. Who were we to argue, the pup was coming as a gift!
The Hills once took Stan on holiday to hoity-toity Plettenberg Bay where they met people with a very stressful holiday job: To look after a fine pedigree Afghan bitch on heat. Big responsibility to keep it away from all lesser dogs and avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
Well, good luck with that with Stan the Man around. When they looked again, there was Stan on the beach, publicly locked in holy matrimony with the long-haired beauty. Something like this (Staffies are known more for their enthusiasm than their class):
A legend in his own lunchtime was Stan.
Now read just how faulty memory can be! Here’s the details from someone who was there: Stan’s owner, Dave Hill:
It was actually at Mbotyi on the Wild Coast and the femme fatale was a nubile young Spaniel sent there with the owners’ mother because she was on heat!
Stan left our cottage after supper every evening only coming home late late late.
One morning we couldn’t find him………..so we went a-searching.
Lo and behold! right on the main beach, in front of quite a crowd was young Stan the Man in flagrante delicto with this young virgin Spaniel.
In flagrante delicto in dogs, as you know, means dog-knotted.
When Stan saw us he belted up the beach with the damsel stuck fast around his underbelly!
My solution of course was to pick em up hurl them both into the water which caused great mirth and unknotted them.
We often wonder about that liaison and the end result . . . . .
Bella became Aitch’s most beloved dog of all, eclipsing TC the Original and even Matt the Beloved. It was a tall order to take Matt’s place in Aitch’s heart but Bella did it by following her like a shadow, paying attention, winning her obedience classes – and by sheer longevity.
She reached the ripe old age of seventeen years and died just before Aitch. She’s buried at 10 Elston Place; whereas TC, Matt and Bogart are all buried at 7 River Drive.
Here TC is not happy with this newfound nuisance! Not another black puppy that’s going to end up bigger than me! The third one!
In her final obedience trial at Canine Academy, she and Aitch got into the finals with a friend and her pedigree Alsatian. They were neck and neck until the time they had to do “go away” things (as opposed to “come here” things). Bella went as told; found what she had to; waited there until asked, then brought it to Aitch. Meantime the Alsatian stumbled a bit at that task. In congratulating her, her friend turned to Aitch and said, “If you asked Bella to fly, she would!”
Here’s Aitch with Bella facepaint, and both disguised as fairies, with haloes and wings:
First puppy. That was TC whose name didn’t signify much but we couldn’t think of another and settled on TC which teasingly was for “Terrible Canine” or “Terrific Canine”. Maybe the character from the TV show Magnum P.I influenced the name too. She was born on Melrose Farm of Mouse the Jack Russell by that he-man and character Stan the dark Staffie and was a gift from Dave and Goldie Hill, new parents of Tatum at the time. This was December 1988.
Stan with Goldie; Mouse with Tatum:
TC with her siblings before weaning:
We still lived in a flat but were moving into a house soon. Flat life suited TC:
But so did the great outdoors:
And even though three younger new arrivals outgrew her . . .
She outlasted two of them and remained Top Dog:
Her big friend and sparring partner was Tess the bull terrier from next door. Great mates they were, but occasionally when we near they’d go at each other with much snarling and hound-dog insults.
Once I held Tess high overhead with TC attached to her leg in a firm bite, both growling furiously, then dumped them in the deep end of the pool before they would quit their nonsense!
TC lived to fifteen, outliving Matt and Bogart. She is buried at 7 River Drive Westville on the banks of the Mkombaan river under a kanniedood tree, the paperbark commiphora (was Commiphora harveyi). She just got old and tired and slower and thin, and died quietly in her basket one evening.
We left Bernie’s white Ford Escort at Hella Hella with the Porters, and drove round to Deepdale in my white Ford Cortina. Linda Grewar (who became a notable paddler herself – she later won the Fish river marathon mixed doubles with Bernie!) then drove my car back to Durban. ‘Seconds’! ‘Helpers’ ‘Chauffeurs’! What would we do without those wonderful volunteers? It was winter on a low, clear Umkomaas and we set off happy as larks. Or otters. In our Perception plastic kayaks imported by Greg Bennett in his Paddlers Paradise daze.
We put in at the Deepdale railway bridge and drifted downstream, portaged around the waterfall – Well, you’d have heard a dull thud if you tried to shoot it at that level! Deepdale or Bald Ibis Falls. It was a glorious afternoon, warm and clear with hardly a breeze. We paddled at my pace which meant this was a two-day trip, lots of drifting, lots of chat with my mate Bernie ‘The Jet’ Garcin, frequent stops, carrying back and shooting the bigger drops again. We stopped early, to camp while there was still light to cook by.
The night was as cold as a banker’s heart and I was in my sleeping bag straight after grub. Not so The Jet who first had to go through an elaborate foot-washing ritual in the freezing twilight. A long night on the hard ground, and off early next morning. We didn’t know how far we had to go. We knew some guys had done it in a day, so we weren’t too worried and kept to my usual blistering (!) pace. Bernie had stood on the podium in mixed doubles results in his day, so was no slouch. But he knew me and was resigned to (hopefully quite enjoyed?) my drift-and-gaze-in-awesome-wonder pace.
The rock gardens we’d heard about in Longdrop Rapid were wonderful. You’d drop into a little ‘room’ and find the outlet and then drop down into another, huge boulders all around you. We decided this would be very hairy in high water!
Dropping into a ‘room’:
Bernie got wedged here. I made to rush back to free him, but he shouted “No! Wait! First take a picture!”
We paddled that whole sunny day with a leisurely lunch stop. As it started to get dark we quickened the pace, Bernie deciding we needed to get a move on. But night started falling before we got anywhere we recognised. Then we shot a weir we knew was not far upstream of the Hella Hella bridge and a nasty piece of rusty iron sticking out flashed past at eye height. We decided Whoa! time to call a halt. Bernie’s legs are a lot shorter than mine, and I knew the Porters well, so we decided I’d run to the farmhouse and drive back as close as I could get in his off-road Escort.
At the Porter farmhouse Barry & Lyn gave me a beer (‘um, forced a beer on me’ I explained to Bernie when he said “What took you so long?”). Driving back along the track down into the valley, a couple guys on horseback kicked their mounts into acceleration, just beating me onto the narrow track down to the river, so they had the benefit of my headlights to light up the way, and Bernie had the benefit of my taking longer to get to him.
Halfway down into the valley a fella on foot leaned in my window (it was slow going) and asked if HE could hitch a ride. “Sure” I said and THEY hopped in: Two guys, two dogs and a huge sack of maize meal in the Jet’s two-door Escort! Ahem, I’m sure Bernie won’t mind chaps, I said to no-one in particular.
I stopped with the headlights on the two kayaks, lying cockpit to cockpit. No sign of Bernie. I got out and a head popped up, yellow helmet still firmly on his head. He had wedged himself between the boats. As he blinked in the headlights I saw his eyes widen as a guy in a trench coat got out of the passenger door. Then another. Then a mangy dog. Then another rangy dog with a curled tail. His mouth dropped when the two guys reached back into the car and hauled out a heavy sack. He said nothing. That’s Bernie.
We loaded and set off for Durban. After a while Bernie had to talk: Did I know he was surrounded by dogs growling the whole time I was gone? and what took me so long? and was I aware his car smelt of dog?
But he forgave me. He always did. He was a really good mate Bernie and I was very sorry when he buggered off to Aussie (not because of the dogs or anything, mind).
I encouraged Jess to shoot some videos with her 2011 xmas-prezzie Canon camcorder. Set it up on the tripod, showed her how and said “Go for it, girl. Get footage of Black Sambucca the lazy labrador, or birds in the birdbath. Experiment!”
Over lunch I press her: “Let’s see what you‘ve done”. Much giggling and No Dad!, but I insist on looking.
Loud sounds of International Love by girlfriend-beater Chris Brown and Pitbull, with Jess dancing joyously to the beat dressed in her hiphop best.
We now have two more females in the household! And the one is making deposits bedonnered.
Never one to do things by halves, Aitch has reacted to my firm “NO WAYS” for a new dog by getting TWO puppies: One is here already. Jess calls her “Shadow”. The other has been born and arrives in a few weeks’ time. Both black bitches.