"Life with Claude" by Peter Yeldham

One of our most celebrated authors, the legendary Peter Yeldham, has a new book coming soon. In fact, "The Last Double Sunrise" is now available for pre-order! While waiting for your copy to arrive, it's worth visiting some of Peter's memories about one of his more mischievous family members: 'Claude'. Peter spent many years in the United Kingdom, writing celebrated scripts for radio and television, and even working with Spike Milligan.  Peter's story presents plenty of inspirational fodder for the theme 'new beginnings', which is the focus of our very first short story competition. Since we announced last week, our inbox has been filled with exciting entries! We're looking forward to receiving even more and bringing you the winning entry before Christmas. If you're stuck for ideas, we think this post from Peter presents plenty of opportunities for inspiration. 

My wife and children decided it was time for a dog when we moved from a flat in Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, to a house with ten acres, just a half hour from London.  We’d had various pets since Marjorie and I married; first a cat, when we lived in North Sydney, where our daughter Lyn was born.  This was in  the days before computers, when I typed on a portable.  The cat, her name was Cleopatra, found a cosy spot to park herself.  Each day she sat on my desk, inches from me and the typewriter, purring as I wrote radio scripts. When I finished each page I had to lift her, since her chosen  residence was on the typed pages of dialogue which she kept warm. If I got stuck at this point, and paused for thought, she’d start to purr again, as if to say ‘do get on with it.’

We had to leave Cleo with friends when television was about to be imminent,  and our government gave both licenses to media moguls Packer and Fairfax, who then expressed little faith in local actors and writers being able to handle this new attraction.  “I’ll treat Australians the way I’ve always treated them,” promised Packer.

“In that case let’s go to England,” I said to my wife, and three months later we were on a ship with our children, Lyn aged five, and Perry two years old. We were mad, our friends and family said, but they had no idea how mad.   It was our secret, we had no return fare, and not much spare cash for when we arrived in London.

But this is about Claude, so let’s skip the  two hard years when we might have fled home, but couldn’t afford it. Our bank, The Bank of NSW, now Westpac, refused to lend us the fare. We had no collateral they said, and we are still very grateful to them.  If they’d been generous enough to help, I’d have been back home writing radio scripts and listening to Cleopatra purring.

Instead we stayed another eighteen years in England, the kids went to school there, and after twelve years in London, we found the perfect house in Surrey, and decided it needed a dog.  Marge and Lyn went out one day to buy a small sweet doggy.  At least that was their intention; he may have looked small and sweet to them, but it was clear he wouldn’t stay that way, as he had enormous feet. We christened him Claude, and from the day of his arrival he grew. They had clearly been won over by his friendly demeanour, but they’d brought home a bloodhound, a breed who not only grow, they also follow scents. Before long Claude was living up to this status, tracing aromas he’d detected all over most of southern England.

We lived in Surrey, but his nose took him to Hampshire and Sussex, from where we'd get phone calls saying: "We have your gorgeous dog, but we'll keep him safe until you collect him." In vain Marge asked them to turn him loose, just don't feed him and, he'll find his own way home.  The reply was always that he was much too precious to do that.   So off she went, to the next county or the county after that, and Claude would come home in the car, flop down to rest for a brief time, then set off on another journey.  When he did come home our cat who was perched on a kitchen bench, would whack him across the ear as he went past.  It became easier for her to reach him, because this small sweet doggie had grown so large.  For instance, when I was sitting at meal times I could feel his hot breath as he peered over my shoulder to check what was on my plate.

"Sit down, Claude," I'd say.

"Dad, he is sitting down," the kids liked to point out.

There was an invitation from the lady where we’d bought him, we called her “Mrs B-Hound” because she raised them and, looked a bit like some of her merchandise.  She was having a Sunday gathering of the faithful, at least thirty bloodhounds who all looked identical to Claude were meeting in a forest near Chessington Zoo with their owners.  It was a bizarre and hilarious day.  A canine picnic where thirty hounds all chased scents and got lost in the process, where our son and daughter said the owners all looked like their pets, and poor Mrs B-Hound who’d invited us all, had to call an early end to the meet as everyone was having difficulty identifying which bloodhound was theirs.  The humans were becoming terse and the dogs barked and seemed to have trouble working out who owned them.  Claude, as if deciding the whole thing was a debacle, took off in search of somewhere more interesting and, of course, we were the last home, as we had to go in search of him.

After some months, finding the trips to collect him from other counties becoming even more frequent, we sent him to an obedience school who vowed promised to control his roving.   Two weeks later he came back with a new best friend called Jason; the owner had been taken ill and somehow we’d inherited Jason, a peaceful Labrador.  The school told us the two spent all day together and, such a friendship would be a calming influence.  So we adopted Jason and hoped for the best.  The next day Claude disproved the theory by going on his longest exploratory trip, almost reaching Brighton.

Marjorie had to drive there to collect him.  Our son Perry attempted a solution.  He rode his horse to Epsom Downs, with Claude loosely following them. When they reached the Downs Perry rode at a furious gallop to exhaust the hound.  Claude raced alongside them, enjoying it immensely.  When they returned home, the horse and Perry were exhausted.  Claude had a brief rest, but by the time the horse was unsaddled Claude had sniffed the wind and was gone again.   It seemed the British Isles might soon be unable to contain him.

Some weeks later Marge was driving home, when she saw the back view of the village policeman who appeared to have a large animal on a leash.

"Oh, thank you.  That's my dog," she said, pulling up beside him.

"Is it, Madam?" the copper said, turning to face her.  He was covered in slime from the village duck pond and so was Claude, wagging his tail in cheerful recognition.  Seeing him splashing among the ducks, the cop set out to catch him and had fallen in. A bunch of school kids had witnessed this and roared laughing at the sight, leaving the law wet, bedraggled, and seriously displeased.    He stumped off, threatening that Claude could face arrest, and a large fine if his behaviour continued.

That night we held a high level conference on his future.   It seemed there was no way we could confine him to Surrey. Soon he'd be on his way to Devon, after that Cornwall or Wales. A heart-breaking decision was reached after some gin and tonics.  Claude had to go.  We took him back to the breeder, to Mrs B-Hound, who found him a new owner in Kansas.   We never forgot him, and often wondered where he might be now.  We couldn’t help imagining him at full stretch across the prairies, headed for the next state, or perhaps on his way north to Canada.