Bracken (1990-2004) was born on a farm just north of Ripon. He was half Springer, half Border Collie. Mum was a delightful brown and white Springer who we met. She put her paw on my knee: ‘Look after him for me’. Dad was a Border Collie from the next farm. The Border Collie half was hard working, obedient, responsible: the Springer half was party, party, party.
My favourite Bracken story isn’t the one where he took his first walk up the road with me and came to his very first lamp-post: he sniffed interestedly at the lamp-post and then cocked his leg the wrong side and peed very accurately over my shoe. It isn’t the one where he fell in love with a sassy little poodle on a crowded Sunday morning Whitby beach and I had to try to round him up much to the amusement of the crowds.
It isn’t the one where he swallowed a length of rope and when it appeared at the other end, in the foothills of Helvellyn, I had to pull it out.
It isn’t the one where I went jogging with him for the first time on the canal towpath from Horsforth back to Kirkstall and he ran ahead of me wondering what I was doing. He looked me in the eye with interest, then fell behind me and used his nose to knock one of my ankles into the other causing me to stumble. He overtook me again and looked back at me with a huge grin on his face.
It isn’t him swimming in the sea to fetch a stick keeping his doggy head out, or opening his Christmas presents with his big left paw holding a present down while he would tear at the wrapping with his teeth and then try it on other people’s presents, or as a veggie dog, when I put a free tin of meat chunks in his bowl with his usual meal, he carefully picked them out with his teeth, placed them on the floor and ignored them, or, whenever it thundered, he’d shamefacedly climb onto my lap, or the time we were walking up the Chevin with Bracks his usual twenty yards ahead when suddenly he froze: there, to the right of the path on the slope, were two deer – a first for him. He looked back at me with an expression on his face that said ‘I don’t know what they are, boss, but, if they’re dogs, we could be in trouble’.
It isn’t the many times he would tip-toe up the stairs and find me still in bed reading the paper: he would then launch himself into space and land on my stomach. I’d shout ‘Good God!’ He knew I meant ‘Good dog!’ really. Nor the time we were on a distant part of the Chevin I didn’t know and I was lost. I didn’t want to retrace our steps so I looked at him and said ‘Sorry, Brackie, I’m lost’. His face went to alert. He turned and ran at an angle for a low stone wall, leaped over it into space, and disappeared. Anxiously I peered over. He was standing in a flowerbed of a stately home. I could see the road below us. His direction was a beeline for home.
It isn’t the time we were walking along the canal towpath and he’d wriggled under a stile and was expecting a dog biscuit as a reward (a training device that stuck!). He gazed fixedly at my nearside biscuit pocket and, as we turned a bend, he walked straight into the water. Dog? What dog? Neither hair nor hide of a dog. And suddenly he erupted forth from the water and I helped him out.
It’s the time he fell in love on Otley Chevin. I should explain that the Chevin (from the Celtic ‘coefn’ – a ridge) is an escarpment whose steep, wooded scarp slope overlooks Otley. The south-facing dip slope lends on to Leeds-Bradford Airport. We live in its foothills.
We set off up the Chevin along a familiar route until I suddenly noticed that he’d disappeared. I called and whistled, continued on the walk expecting him to turn up ahead of me. But no sign of him. After a while I went back home where Young John was living with us at the time and asked his help. The two of us searched the Chevin, whistling and calling. Nothing.
When he was nobbut a bairn on Skiddaw
Eventually I left Young John to it and went home. I hadn’t locked the front door but I was surprised to find it ajar. I went in. Bracken was curled up nonchalantly in his basket and wagged his tail. ‘How the heck did you get in?’ I asked. Then I went back to the front door. Immediately to the right of the door handle were tiny scratches. He’d supported himself on his right paw while pulling the door handle down with his left in the way he’d seen me do it so often. All I had to do now was find Young John.
… a giver of unconditional love … affectionate … blessed with a wonderful sense of humour and a keen intelligence … a lover of Nature … indefatigable … a staunch protector, companion, and friend.