Man, Motorbikes and Mutts

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

DOGS are great, aren’t they? They’re good for companionship, protection and humorous antics that’ll keep you laughing; and while dogs are not completely compatible with biking, most bikers are Dog People.

I just had a visit from Skol, the Biker-In-Charge and boss fella of this here magazine what you are reading; he was on his latest Harley, an orange Softail Slim with an Indian Princess sidecar attached. That sidecar was there for one reason—a furry, friendly, barking reason—his Border Collie.

Although Skol’s sidecar is fairly compact compared to the normal sized sidecar you’d see on a Big Twin, fitting a third wheel is still a big effort and a major concession for the pleasure of the company of a furry, four-legged friend.

And dogs are bloody great. The furry buggers enhance your life in ways that words cannot express. But they can also give you so much gyp when things don’t go to plan. For instance, just before Skol, dog and sidecar dropped in, they’d recently visited one of Skol’s ex-wives who lives up the road apiece. Now, I can’t say whether there were any awkward moments between ex-spouses, but during the visit, there certainly was some major discomfort created by the dog. The rowdy mutt had disappeared for a short time, running all over the farm, doing what dogs do, and when she returned, it was quite obvious Muttley had rolled in about four different types of shit and some kind of very dead animal. The pong from that was staggering, and Skol was less than impressed having to first hose off, then wash the rotten, stinkin’ thing before she could jump back into the sidecar boat.

Upon arrival at my place, a still slightly damp Muttley sprang into action and proceeded to romp, cavort and gambol rather dramatically with my own mutt. They got on famously, doing lap after lap around the house and chuckin’ maddies everywhere, all good ways of drying wet dogs out.

dog in sidecar wearing doggles

Then my mutt returned alone, and sat around while Skol and I chatted over tea and lamingtons. After a while, Skol noted his mutt’s absence. Luckily, the durn fool dog hadn’t found anything vile to roll in, but did discover the dam and went in for a refreshing dip. It was probably clean and dry for about two minutes of the duration of the visit. But it looked like it was having fun.

I have so many vivid memories of various dogs through the years I’ve lived on this earth, and that’s another sticking point with dog ownership—the buggers generally don’t live anywhere near as long as humans and that means you may get to experience the full gamut of emotions dogs invoke more times than you would think.

If you’re not a dog owner, you’ve probably stopped reading by now, so bye-bye, but dog owners won’t need me to tell you how smart those furry critters are. The knowledgeable say some highly intelligent dogs are as smart as the average five- or six-year-old human child; I reckon most dogs are smarter than the average teenager.

It would get boring if I just rattled off yarn after yarn about smart dogs here, but let me share a couple of memories.

Poik the Office Dog

Way back when I first started working for Ozbike Magazine, there was an office dog named Poik. Apparently Poik is the sound made when a hammer hits a nail on the head (yeah, that’s what I was thinking). Poik was what was known as a Rough Collie, and being a child’s ex-pet, was given the job of guarding the salubrious office of Ozbike. It was that or the Pound so I guess it was a good compromise. 

BSA B33 and dog

In the first few months of my employment, I found it easier to perform all the normal office type stuff from 9 to 5, but stay on for a few hours once everyone else went home and do the creative stuff like writing the magazine articles. It was a much better environment to bash out stories without the constant phone calls and meetings that occur during a normal day. Being ‘on probation’, I wasn’t yet a ‘key-holder’; I could work after hours, set the alarm, lock up and leave—all things I could do without a key.

And there was very something weird about Poik’s behaviour during that probationary period. Once everyone else had left, I was alone and powering through the stories, but that bloody dog would sit there and keep an eye on me. She would have a very worried look on her face, then occasional let out a nervous little yip or yap as if to say, “Look, I’m supposed to be guarding this place and you’re not supposed to be here.”

Poik was always so happy to see me set the alarm, lock the back door and swan off home on the motorbike.

Then, the day Skol ceremoniously gave me my key to the office, Poik’s after-hours demeanour changed dramatically. From about a few minutes after 5 pm, a very relaxed and happy Poik would saunter over, flop next to my desk and lovingly remain there until I clocked off and locked up. She must have known it was cool for me to be there. I was a key-holder.

Over the years, the office shifted, alarms got better and Rough Collie guard dogs became less relevant. I somehow inherited Poik who made the move to Sydney’s Northern Beaches. She was getting on in years and her eyesight was vey bad but she more than made up with it with her amazing sense of smell. Whether I’d walked down the road to see my old mate Kev, or walked the other direction for a quiet beer at the pub, minutes after arrival, Poik would turn up unannounced after following the scent trail like a bloody Bloodhound.

I was given a brilliant demonstration of Poik’s incredible olfactory powers (and her atrocious eyesight) one Sunday night. I’d cooked a sumptuous Sunday roast and Jane, the girl I was squiring at the time, was late for dinner. I was standing, arms folded and impatient, on the front verandah, waiting. Jane only lived about 10 doors up, so I strode down the front path, paced up the road about two houses’ worth, then turned around, paced back down to my driveway. This impatient pacing up and down was repeated six times. Then I walked back up the path, up the steps and stood in the shadows of the verandah.

Now, if I had’ve left in a ute, or by motorbike, Poik knew not to follow. However, me leaving the house on foot was basically an invitation to a walk. Somehow she’d always know if I had walked off anywhere, and she would track me down.

On this dark Sunday night, while I stood in the shadows of the verandah, Poik came running out the front door, flashing straight past me, nose glued to the deck and snorfling up a frenzy. She trotted down the front steps, down the pathway, out onto the quiet cul-de-sac and up the road about 30 metres. Suddenly, she spun about and began snorfling back down the road, spun around again and repeated the exercise SIX TIMES! 

Then, she was back up the pathway, up the front steps, turning right at the top step, and then she sniffed towards me until her nose bumped into the toe of my Blundstone boot.

“Oh,” she seemed to say as she looked up at me in a relieved manner, “there you are. I thought you’d left without me!”

That near-blind dog had retraced my every step from the time I left the house to the time she found me. She had initially ignored the later model offshoot of my scent trail, and concentrated only on my sequential movements, from start to finish. Totally gobsmacked, I was, and I knew she would’ve given any Bloodhound a run for its money.

Poik vs. Gidget

The baked dinners must’ve worked and Jane started spending more and more time at my place (we were restoring her 1970 Triumph Trophy at the time) and along with Jane came her cattledog bitch named Gidget which really complicated the household, dog-wise. Yeah, Gidget was a very smart and funny dog, but two desexed bitches, both with tenuous territorial claims… That was always going to be dodgy, but as long as they got their long walks each night, a tense peace prevailed. 

Kaiser Loves Poik and Gidget

The peace and quiet in dogsville at my place lasted until Kaiser reappeared on the scene. Kaiser was this incredibly smart German Shepherd, almost jet-black and had lived with me previously. His owner, a girl, had moved into my place for about a year (her name was also Jane; life is always complicated).

Before Gidget and Poik lived at my place, I used to take Kaiser for long walks around the Collaroy/Collaroy Plateau area and, Jeez, that dog was smart. I witnessed the most clinical display of ruthless hunting prowess one night in the multi-million-dollar streets above Long Reef. As we rounded a bend at about 10:30 pm, a large cat was propped in the middle of the roadway, about 30 metres away, lit by a pool of street-lighting. I was about to grab Kaiser but he’d already run in the opposite direction. Not to run away, mind you, but to disappear down a set of steps to walk on the sunken footpath, about 6 foot lower than the roadway and out of sight from the cat.

I was mesmerised. As Kaiser got to a point where he thought it was right, then hunkered right down as he crawled up the grassy embankment towards the roadway. He had his ears flattened back and barely more than his eyes appeared over the grass bank.

He realised he’d come up too short, being in line with the cat, which was still staring at me with a ‘wait and observe’ order. Then, that bloody dog did something I didn’t even think was possible: Still on his belly, he shuffled backwards down the slope, then padded silently another 10 metres further along, then shimmied up the slope again, this time well behind the unknowing cat, who was still busy staring at me.

Like whispering death, Kaiser padded stealthily up behind the cat and surprised it big time; there was an almighty ruckus that must’ve woken up residents of Millionaire’s Row.

Now, I don’t like cats, but I also don’t like seeing them get ripped to pieces, especially by an animal which is supposed to behave around yours and others’ children. I yelled at Kaiser to stop and he instantly ceased the attack. Although it was a very serious situation, there was still an air of hilarity about it as the tree the terrified feline had sought refuge in wasn’t quite big enough, and any branch it chose would sway dangerously to ground level, while Kaiser pranced around and barked excitedly; that poor cat was shittin’ bricks.

As we left the scene rather rapidly, Kaiser kept looking up at me, and I’m sure he was saying, “We sure showed that rotten cat something, didn’t we? Thanks for being my decoy—we make a great team!”

When Kaiser’s owner moved back into her parents’ place a couple of klikks away, Kaiser didn’t completely move back, often turning up alone at my place about 10:30 pm weeknights demanding his walk. Once Poik and Gidget were established at my place as co-top-dogs, Kaiser’s visits became more frequent. And here’s the funny thing: as long as it was just Gidget and Poik together on a walk, or Kaiser on his own, there were never any problems with all the other dogs in front yards of the established walk routes. But, with three dogs on the run, it was mayhem! That bloody Kaiser would rouse up all the normally silent yard dogs, and create pandemonium, even going as far as jumping front fences to go in and sort out family pets who didn’t know what hit them. It was almost like the cocky bugger was shouting out in dog language, “Hey, suckers, check these two bitches—they’re both mine! The bugger was showing off his harem. I didn’t want to, but putting Kaiser on the leash was the only way we could all get our exercise without drama.

BSA Bantam vs. Border Collie

I had an encounter with a dog on my first-ever motorcycle, a BSA Bantam. I was about 14-years-old, it was a dark night and I was riding the Bantam flat out down the street that looped behind my parent’s place at Allambie Heights. Let’s see, public street, no licence, no rego, no lights, no helmet, no brakes—the sort of crap that makes my blood boil when I see a kid doing it these days.

I had a bit of vision but only the pools of light afforded by the old-fashioned street-lights of the late 1960s. A black and white Border Collie dog appeared from a driveway, darted out, turned left and ran in a straight line in front of me. He was doing his best to slow me down and round me up like a wayward sheep. He ran along ahead, looking back over his shoulder and barking at me to slow down. The dodgy brake situation meant I couldn’t comply and smacked right into that black and white bastard of a sheepdog.

Over the bars I went, and tumbled and rolled for longer then I would’ve preferred. The damage to me was bad, mainly bark off here and there, but the three big gouges in the back of my head had me worried.

The parents believed me when I lied to them and told them it was a pushbike I fell off, not one of those nasty motorbikes. I even hobbled around the back street the next day to discover the dog was obvious uninjured and happy as Larry. How do they do that?

Time To Say Goodbye

Like I said earlier in the story, dogs don’t live as long as humans so it may be more than a few times in your life you get to grieve for a furry friend no longer around. Poik the Rough Collie shuffled off; she was very old and infirm, and then a few years later little Gidget turned 17-years-old and could barely move. It was so sad to see her in so much pain so the terrible decision was made to send her to sleep forever.

Jane felt it was her job to do it so Gidget took her last ride in the front seat of the ute, up to the vet’s surgery one Friday afternoon; then she had her final ride in the back of the ute, wrapped in her blanket that had been specially washed for the occasion. I dug the grave under the avocado tree and then we both sat quietly in the lounge room for a peaceful reflection.

When it was time for the burial, I walked out to the ute to open the tailgate and I noticed the right rear taillight and quarter panel were smashed to the shit-house. Jane, in her highly distressed state, was blubbering badly while trying to reverse the ute out of the vet’s driveway and connected hard with a concrete block that wasn’t supposed to be there. I said nothing, not showing any emotion; it was not the time to quibble about the first dent in the freshly restored ute.

I thought I was doing alright, as I picked up Gidget from the ute’s tray and carried her mortal remains to her final resting place. Halfway there, I totally lost it, blubbing uncontrollably, the sadness and helplessness emanating from every fibre in my body. I’m pretty sure my ragged emotions were nothing to do with the damaged ute and all about Gidget. Dogs can do that to you.

Spike the Motorcycle Escort Dog

My mate Skraps had a really smart German Shepherd too. This one, a pure-white Shepherd named Spike, was so intelligent, that disappearing as soon as the word ‘bath’ was mentioned, was just standards smarts. Skraps and his brothers would spell out the word ‘bath’ to trap him into his monthly tub. And it wasn’t long before merely whispering “B –— A –— T — H” would see the dog slink away and disappear for hours or until it was dark. The dog could spell, for God’s sake.

But that wasn’t Spike main claim to fame, no Sir! That pure-white Shepherd was also Motorcycle Escort Dog. True! See, Skraps lived in a street at the top of Beacon Hill. The problem was the huge number of dopey, dickhead dogs that would form a pack and harass the bejeezus out of any motorcycle-riding mates who’d come to visit the Skraps Manor.

Because Skraps Manor was situated on the side of the mountain you’d hear all the motorcycles travelling up Beacon Hill Road from the lowlands of Brookvale. Every so often, you’d hear the roar of a Matchless Twin, a Triumph Twin, a Norton Twin, or the thump of an AJS Single, heading up the hill to Skraps’ place. That was Spike’s signal to race up Beacon Hill Road and pace along beside the motorcycle. The other dogs were so dumb, they thought that was a signal to join in on a mob attack, whereupon Spike would run interference and snap the shit out of them.

The dopey mutts couldn’t understand: “What I do—what I do?” they seemed to yelp. “I though you were on our side?”

It was a brilliant collaboration between Man, Machine and Mutt, and depending on the visitor traffic to Skraps’ dirt-floored Pommie bike workshop, Spike might’ve done two or three motorcycle escorts in one afternoon. You’d be tinkering with a motorbike, then you’d hear a Pommie bike roar into Beacon Hill Road, and without fail, Spike would leap into action, and had the look on his face that said, “Ho- hum, a Motorcycle Escort Dog’s work is never done…”

It was a funny thing, but another mate, Davo, rode a Kwakka 9 and consequently didn’t get a Motorcycle Escort from Spike. Bloody Jap bikes, eh?

Davo’s Good Dog/Bad Dog

But Davo had his own set of stories involving dogs, and Davo had a very physical and visual way of telling a story that always made it pants-pissingly funny. His description of living down near Cowra when times were tough and money was tight was hilarious; I know I can’t do justice to his storytelling here, but I’ll try.

He’d worked out that the cheapest was to feed his German Shepherd was to spend a few bucks on a box of crackers for his .22, plus some batteries for the Eveready torch, and the two of them would go spotlighting rabbits. Cheap dog food if you’re a good shot. 

Davo reckons his mutt would stare at him while he took aim and he reckoned the dog was saying, “Don’t you miss, don’t dare miss…”

A dropped bunny would have the dog doing backflips and yelping for joy, but if Davo was having an ‘off’ night with his aim, he reckoned the dog would growl the word “BASTARD!” and not make another sound for the rest of the night except the stomach rumbles.

Through a weird set of circumstances, it was a dog who bought Davo a house. Yep, Davo had found a place in the shadow of the Blue Mountains, and, like every other mug, was paying the mortgage down and getting on with life. One constant in Davo’s life was a grudging jealousy of various mates who’d had their car and bike accidents, got badly hurt, and years later, won the big Third Party Personal Insurance Lottery.

“Lucky bastards!” he’d seethe. “They’ve earned enough to buy a house simply by getting clobbered by a car…”

“Err, yeah, Davo,” you’d reply. “But have you noticed their legs, or seen how bent their arm is now?”

He at least agreed it was a lottery which also had booby prizes in the mix.

Davo would change his motorbikes more often than some people change their underwear, and at this stage he was riding a big 600 cc single Traillie. He was just setting out with a mate on another Traillie to explore various parts of the Lower Blue Mountains. A short distance from their starting point, the mate was riding ahead when a solid-as-a-brick-shithouse Bull Terrier came barrelling out of a driveway and made a lunge at Davo’s mate’s back tyre. It totally missed, simply shrugged, said, “Humph!” then spun around to trot back to the property he was protecting from scumbag Trailbikers. The only trouble was the solid Bully strode straight under Davo’ 23-inch front wheel which buckled back to the engine cases and pitched poor old Davo over the handlebars.

Davo was lying on the road and hurting real bad with serious shoulder damage, and was really peed off to see the Bully bound back up the driveway, apparently unharmed.

His lawyer was a beauty and made a claim against the dog owner’s Home and Content’s policy, figuring the dog to be one of the home’s ‘Contents’ and therefore liable for any damage caused. She made a claim for damage to Davo’s Traillie, but Davo kept asking, “What about my injuries—what about my compensation?”

“Hush, little one,” she told him. “All in good time…”

It was standard fare for the cunning lawyer/cunning insurer poker game. Once the insurer agreed to pay damages for the bike, the lawyer then said, “Oh, and here’s the claim for my client’s physical injuries…” So that solid and seemingly unbreakable Bull Terrier paid Davo’s mortgage out. His shoulder still hurts, but…

Bandit the Innocent Shepherd

Had a mate called Wrong Way Ron. He moved in with us at a share house in Harbord for a while, and he was the Eternal Optimist. He passed the boarder’s interview despite having a motorcycle (needing valuable garage space) and a huge great German Shepherd named Bandit (pain the arse if it’s not your dog and it’s only a small backyard).

The whole time Ron and Bandit lived there was almost entirely spent on building a camper trailer for his Yamaha SR500 single and Baby Murphy Sidecar, and planning a ‘Round Australia’ trip on the seriously maltreated Yamaha. The fact they made it the whole way around this Island Continent, and even dropped in a year or so later to say G’day, was amazing to me, but the image I can never get out of my mind is a sight I was treated to four times before they finally embarked on their adventure. Four angering times I arrived home to find the kitchen tidy-bin missing from the kitchen. A trail of rubbish and food scraps led down the side pathway to the small backyard and there it was—the upended kitchen tidy-bin and the rest of the rubbish, strewn around a seated German Shepherd. The bloody thing was trying to look innocent, with no knowledge of how all this mess happened.

“Why are you looking at me?” he was saying. “I don’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’—not guilty, Your Honour!”

The only troubling aspect to his alibi was the kitchen tidy-bin’s swing-top he was wearing as an incriminating collar. He could never remove that swing-top from his head, the durn fool dog.

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton.

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