The men were sitting in the old shed on the farm eating their "dockey". Old Bert was entertaining all who were willing to listen to a story about a dog he'd been sold by "one o' them gypsy fellas who claimed that dog were as fast as any hare". He was just about to get to his punchline which, we all knew, was going to be that although the dog could keep up with any hare it never actually caught one, when there came a sharp knock at the door and in walked Neil Chandler.
"Everybody alright?" he grinned. It was his usual greeting. Neil had a smallholding up in Baxter's Wood and several other part-time occupations besides. He'd often come to borrow some piece of equipment, do an odd job or, in this case pick up a load of straw bales which he'd pay for by doing some driving for us at harvest time. "Sit down, bor," said Bert, "soon as we've et our dockey we'll give you a hand wi' them bales. Now I was just tellin' these boys about my ol' dog..."
"Don't worry, Bert, you finish your food. I can manage to load a few bales on my own. Just take them from the main stack, shall I?"
We said that would be fine so Neil went out and left us to continue our break.
"Nice bloke, that Neil", observed Charlie, "good worker and never seems to get uppity or airyated about anythin' ".
"Only got rankled up once in 'is life so far as I know" said Bert.
"See, a few years back 'e used ter play cricket for the village. Bit of a dasher 'e was in them days. Anyhow we 'ad a game again' Budwell one time. Lord o' the manor and all sorts were there, spectatin' like. Neil catches the eye o' the young miss an' afore you know it 'e was ridin' 'is motorboike over to the big 'ouse every night a-courtin' of 'er".
"That got tongues waggin' in the village, you may depend. "She'll charm the money right out o' his wallet", they says, "then she'll be gorn off with another". The next we 'eard 'e was gettin' hisself married up to her. O' course folks thought 'e'd got 'er in the family way. "Charmed the buttons off 'is flies too", they says. Big weddin' they 'ad though. An' a big r'ception arterwards wi' a diskyteque an' little sausages on sticks".
"There weren't no empty 'ouses in the village though, so they went and moved in ter the old gamekeepers' cottage up in Baxter's wood there"
"Same as where Neil lives now." interjected Charlie.
"Ar, same as where", said Bert. "Only folks 'ad got it all wrong. There weren't no babby to bless 'em at the nine-month end. That were just surmisin' on account o' things bein' a bit sudden like. But they was right about her with the money. Fast as Neil could earn it so she spent it. That meant Neil were out workin' every day an' most evenin's too. 'Ad to give up cricket an' darts. But, Neil bein' Neil, 'e just smiles 'is way through it all, never a moan or nothin' ".
"But what with no babbies ter look arter and nothin' but 'er shoppin' trips up ter London, the young missus got ter bein' lonely up there a-rattlin' around in that old 'ouse all by herself. She tells Neil she wants a dog. But it's not ter be no normal sort o' dog. Got ter be one o' them Pickerneesers, it 'as. And, Neil bein' Neil, 'e buys it for 'er."
"Well, you could see what the problem was right away, 'cos she starts treatin' that dog like it was a babby. 'Ad its own room with a little bed and pictures on the wall too. That's no way fer a dog to be tret, is it? Sure enough, this dog starts bitin' all-comers. 'Ad the postman, the insurance man and even Neil hisself, quite a nasty nip on 'is fingers."
"And so that was what made him angry?" suggested young Colin, ever eager to hasten Bert's tales to a conclusion.
"Not a bit of it. I saw 'im the next day and he's pleased as punch, reckoned it were a bit more of a dog than 'e'd give it credit for. But o' course you can't 'ave a dog what bites the insurance man, can you?"
"Not unless you'm insured against it!" joked Charlie.
"Zactly so," said Bert, "so she says ter Neil that 'e'd 'ave ter fork out for 'Bedience Classes for the dog. An' naturally Neil agrees."
"Well, week arter week she takes off wi' this dog to go to them 'Bedience Classes. Only it don't seem ter do no good. Bites the vicar on 'is knee, it does, so's 'e can't do 'is vicarin' of a Sunday. 'Sposed ter be lions what eat the Christians, says the vicar, not blasted little Pickerneesers"
"Then one fine day Neil 'as ter go over ter Walter Smith's place to fix some tackle. 'Ad ter take the tractor 'cos it were dog-classes day an' she'd took the car. 'E was goin' past the ol' orchard when 'e glances into the gateway. There, clear as day an' bold as brass, was 'is own car parked up with the little dog tied up ter the bumper. An' there's 'is missus in the back wi' the dog trainer fella! Well, Neil gave 'im a right seein' to, I can tell you. Knocked 'im black an' blue. An' the dog joined in too. Bit both of 'em!"
"Soon arter that his missus moved out. Up ter London, I reckon. Left Neil with nothin' but the little dog."
"I'd 'ave shot the bloody thing" said Colin.
"You're not Neil Chandler though, are you, bor? No, in a few weeks 'e'd made that animal into a passable sort of a dog. Still got it, in fact."
"Though it can't be long now afore that dog breaks 'is heart again; it won't see many more summers now."
Bert looked thoughtfully down at his work boots, then at his ageing hands; finally they fell on his open lunch box and uneaten sandwiches.
"Blast you lot! Time to go back ter work an' I ain't even started on my dockey!"