Dead Dog, a London tale


When I had moved to London and got married the first time, we lived in a lovely little flat with spare room. Maybe we’d have a baby, or at least a guest we could put up in a real bed. This was , and remains, a precious and marketable commodity in any big city. The writer David Quantick stayed over lots. He was a good friend to both of us and sort of an adopted son, but our age. Impeccable manners.

I think I was in love, I can’t remember. I’ve taken too many drugs in the interval, it fucks with your love memory. But not your dead dog memory, I will get to that later.

He was very funny,the husband, not the dead dog. He made me laugh a lot. We both worked, him much more so than I did, and I loved to play house. I loved to cook and clean and tidy the records and CDs, I even cooked stuff I wouldn’t eat myself, like Gammon and mushy peas. I served bread and marg with every meal, cut into triangles, because that is what my gran did. I did this until a friend who knew all about class said that sliced, marged bread was “working class” and he said this so disdainfully, I thought better use real butter instead. But he meant the whole set up.

At this time in my life I was getting to know a lot of people who had done well for themselves but banged on about how little education they had, how working class they were, they did it all themselves. I wasn’t sure why it mattered so much to them. I still don’t get it. This was also around the same time a lot of posh English white boys started to walk widely like ghetto boys from the Bronx and say stuff like “word” It was all so very strange. Because some of those ghetto boys were rapping and making good money and getting out of the ghetto and riding in fancy cars and wearing expensive watches but always, always asking “What time is it.” It was a rap thing. I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand anything about anything, except everything seemed upside down. I could tell the living from the dead, the speed freak from the alkie, and the rap from the shoe gazers. That was what my life was reduced to, at the time. And we though we were at the centre of the fucking universe.

This husband I think was working class but it meant nothing to me. He moved about constantly, a bit like a whole body version of restless leg syndrome, which he had as well. He had a lot of excess energy. I found it immensely attractive and annoying all at once. It’s always the way. The stuff you love at first becomes the very stuff you can no longer abide.

Very soon into the marriage, we started to row. They were daytime rows. At night, we wrote or went to gigs. He liked a drink, I liked speed. We were chemically incompatible. But he was kind and generous and never missed a deadline. I respected that.

One row in particular, can’t remember what it was about, something stupid, it always was, I stormed out. Not forever, that came later, when he told me truthfully but painfully he no longer loved me, but this wasn’t that row. This was just a dumbfuck row about nothing in particular, so I stormed out.

It was early Sunday morning, we lived in Stoke Newington. This was well before it was the ” new islington” Back in the day, Nico ( velvet underground Nico, used to buy her drugs there. In a German accent. Buying drugs in a German accent seems less desperate, more demanding.

I walked up Lordship Rd, past the school where my children by another future husband would eventually attend, and up all the way to Church st, to the little church graveyard that I think Johnny Rotten once said was his favourite view of London, he may have even said “vista” It was a strange little graveyard with signs of voodoo in it. Dead chicken bones, little skulls of animals. Of course, they could have been the remains of a takeaway, but it looked like voodoo to me. So very old, most of the writing on the gravestones had been worn away. I heard the sounds of drumming and soul singing coming from the church. It was riveting. I thought church was all about organs and five part harmonies and Songs of Praise whiteness. This church, by the sound of the gospel, was entirely black. Not only black, but dressed in the most fabulous colourful clothes with fanciful head gear and complicated wrapping procedures. If you wanted to, and I didn’t, you could just tug at a bit of fabric and undress and entire woman or man. It was African and the music was invigourating, inviting. I stuck my little white head through the door and this big mamma of a woman clasped my head and shrieked “Come in, come in, come hear the words of our Saviour.” So I was dragged in and found myself in a little gated pew. The pews had little gates or doors, if you were in one and wanted to leave, boy would people notice. Cos you had to open the gate. Which creaked. But this was a charismatic church, and I saw a lot of women babble stuff and seem to faint. But not actually faint, just sway and babble. Not the guys, just the women. I later learned this was speaking in tongues and some people, just as in sex, faked it ,and others were truly speaking some strange language, and others were possibly just mad. I reserved my judgement cos I liked the band so much.
At one point in the service I was dragged up to be healed. Clearly I was a troubled soul. Speed come downs are very transparent. Plus the marital row. I would be saved, all would be well. The priest said some words of salvation, some said amen and others sorta swayed or almost fainted. He touched my head with a rod, as if I were being Knighted or OBEd. By an asthmatic dude in a white dress.

I stayed for the rest of the sermon which was very long. Every time the priest intoned, asthmatically, with dramatic gasping, someone else from the congregation would repeat what he had just said. Just in case no one heard through the wheezing. And personally I felt much better, I would like to say it was God but actually the drummer was really good. I think it was the beat, the ferocity of the drums, at that point, more than God. God would come later, much later.

After the sermon, there was tea and unidentified fried dough of some sort. Balls, not donuts. The women were generously proportioned. I was speed freak thin. I drank tea and ate fried bread with no intention ever of going back. I did, many many years later, to not that church but one that was more sedative, truly healing. I did think of telling the drummer that good drummers were thin on the ground, it was clearly his vocation, but thought better of it. He might think I was a church drummer groupie. How sick is that?

I l left church and walked through the voodoo vista, and onto Lordship Rd.Feeling good and spiritual, my mood radically altered when I saw a dead dog in the middle of the road. I guess it had been run down, walking itself. In years to come I was to live on the estate that I believe the dog had walked itself from. The people I knew ( not all of them) had dogs but were too lazy to walk them. One three doors down ( this is in the future, the second marriage) used to walk itself and shit on our doorstep. Karma for sure.

But this dead dog, well this was not karma. I felt so full of the spirit that I felt I needed to tend to the dog, dead as it was. There were not only no mobile phones back then, or ver few, but hardly any of the phone boxes worked. I stood for a while in the middle of the road like a lolipop school crossing lady. Minding the dead dog. Then I thought well I can’t stand here forever, I have do to something. So I left the dog briefly, dashed up to Church st, I think there must have been a working phone, and called the ministry of dead dogs. England was like that then. It had a ministry for everything.

They said I should stay near the dog til they came.When would that be? Some time, today. I said the dog was in the middle of the road, and I could not stay there without being run over myself. They said I should move it to the pavement. I said it was a large dog, but I would do my best. I rang off and headed back down Lordship Road. The sky hard darkened and it was beginning to drizzle. The only thing in my favour was that there seemed to be very little traffic.

All sorts of thoughts crossed my mind. What if people thought I had something to do with the death of the dog, that I had killed it? What if I just left it there, would the dead dog people find it? I stared at it for a long time and managed to shuffle it, well, frankly, kick it, which must have looked appalling, it certainly felt so, to the side of the road, in between two parked cars. I found some builder’s plastic sheeting blowing around the entrance to Lordship South Estate. I covered the dog up so it would not get wet, as the drizzle was turning into proper rain. I also thought now, who’s going to look under this sheeting? It’s not clear at all that the mound underneath is dog shaped.

One thing I know about dead creatures is that children are forensic. Give them a dead anything they were not personally attached to, and they will dismember it, dissect it, it’s like a whole day’s entertainment for a bored kid. So I worried that some kid would lift the sheet, find the dog, and dissect it. As improbable as that seems now, at the time, in my head , it was certain. The other worry was since I had moved the dog, between two parked cars, the people who were coming to fetch it would miss it.

Incredibly, I found exactly what I needed, which was a discarded estate agent sign. I thought If I could somehow stick it up, turn it round to the blank side and write in large letters DEAD DOG, that the dog would be found and the correct procedures would be put in place. I always carried a pen, but I had to write, in the rain, in very big, coloured in letters. This took some time. The pen didn’t work very well on the sign, and it wasn’t very clear. I drew an arrow downwards, pointing to the dead dog. As an afterthought, I wrote in smaller letters: children, please do not dissect or disturb.

The biggest problem was getting the sign to stay up. Unless I sort of speared it into the dog, which seemed cruel and unusual and might involve entrails and so forth. Again, against all the rules of physics, I managed to make a hole in the plastic sheeting and sort of wedge the sign between the dogs front paws. It kept falling over but eventually, it stood, wobbling, tilted, but upright enough for it to be visible to anyone who happened to be looking for it. I stood there for a bit, dripping wet, covered in ink and other gunk which may have leaked out of the dog. I waited and waited for any car or van that looked like it might be the people who dealt with this sort of thing. A mighty gust of wind blew, and the sign fell right over. Fuck.

I then leaned the sign over the back of the front of the two cars the dog was between. If the owner decided to move the car, he might investigate and find a better solution. My only comfort that if the owner was old enough to drive, then he would be old enough not to find tampering with a dead dog an interesting thing to do.

I waited for what felt ages, but probably was not that long. Everything seems to take longer when it’s raining and you’ve got to stay there. I started to walk back home, using my new power of prayer to pray that the dog people would come and dispose of it correctly, with compassion. And not kids, who might dissect it.

When I got back home, I thought I could diffuse the row but telling my then husband this series of extraordinary events. But he had gone out. I ran a bath and climbed in, washing off the rain, the ink, the possible sinew.

A few months later, me and my first husband broke up. I never told him the dog story or the church story. It didn’t seem worth the effort, and parts of it seemed unbelievable. I did, years later, tell the story to my best friend Paul. He thought it was hilarious and made it into a lyric of a song he wrote for his band Gretschen Hofner.The song was called Stoke Newington is Babylon. It sort of was, before it became the new Islington. Coffee shops and estate agents and bespoke or vintage everything. Paul came to hate the song, because it became very popular and drunk people always requested it at gigs so they could sing along. But he never hated the story or tired of hearing it.