How many people remember hiding behind the furniture when Dr Who was on? For those folk, and for the brave young things of today, stay with us as we connect Dr Who, Star Trek, Hammer Horror, Basil Brush and the worst space helmet ever. Yes, our mid-week post is aimed at people who like weird sixties TV and movies.
The longdogs are busy disembowelling the living room. Django has one chair nearly down to the springs, and Chilli is pulling stuffing out of the sofa, so they won’t be joining us today.
After interviewing Dan Starkey of Strax and Carnacki fame last time (the starkey stratagem), we had a Dr Who moment, and went back to some of the scary stuff we watched during childhood. And as we’ve already mentioned sofas (fabulous link, eh?), we’ll start with the hiding thing.
One particular moment of paralysing fear remains with me from the sixties – watching William Hartnell’s Dr Who. Even I was young back then. The curtains were drawn, and I was crouched at the back of the living room, peering over a cushion at the TV set, because an unseen creature had said something along the lines of “We are too hideous for you to gaze upon!”
My innocent little organs immediately supplied a surge of horror which I can still remember. And companion Vicki had screamed, because there were triangular partitions of cloudy glass surrounding her, and you could just see a pair of eyes through them…
At that age I tried to imagine what was “too hideous to gaze upon”, and did quite well. I was so scared that I didn’t even shout out that it should have been “too hideous upon which to gaze”. They weren’t that awful, of course, but it was a great build-up. In fact, they were Rills, like this fellow:
I survived, and in the intervening years, I’ve bought pints for people who looked worse than that. For the inner nerd, the story was Galaxy 4 (1965), a four parter in which the Doctor and his companions landed on an arid planet where they met the beautiful Drahvins and the hideous Rills. The Rills were friendly, compassionate explorers, and the Drahvins were clone warriors who got what was coming to them.
Glad that’s been sorted out after all these years.
And Dr Who leads us on to Peter Cushing. We tripped over an oddity at the weekend, and we love that sort of thing. You will, of course, know that Peter Cushing played Dr Who in the films Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks- Invasion Earth (1966).
A year later, he was Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer Horror film, Frankenstein Created Women (1967). A slight mood change in this version, as the film dwells more on psychology than surgery. Frankenstein re-models and re-animates the body of a disfigured young woman, Christina, with predictably unhappy results (Hammer fans may also want to check our recent feature spawn of the ripper: the true story)
Who else was in the film, you ask? Christina was played by Susan Denberg, who you may not know, as she did little acting. She was born Dietlinde Zechner in 1944, and was a Playboy Playmate the same year that Daleks – Invasion Earth came out. But lo and behold, one of her only other roles was in the episode of the original Star Trek series, Mudd’s Women, in which she played Magda Kovacs.
That’s not much of an oddity, you say? Then we unveil for you – Derek Fowlds. Every greydogtales listener will immediately know him as the man who played second dandy in Frankenstein Created Women. As Johann, a young blade, he taunts the disfigured Christina – and pays the ultimate price when Christina is brought back by the Baron.
As Mr Derek in the Basil Brush show on UK TV, Fowlds was beloved of millions, who laughed to his antics as a bemused secretary to a pompous, self-important boss. No, hang on, that was Yes Minister. More importantly, in the same year as he starred in Frankenstein Created Woman, he made the pilot show for Solarnauts, which is our real oddity (at last).
This is a lovely piece of naff sixties TV which could only have been improved by the addition of some proper decimal places. For some reason Fowlds keeps saying things like “Three over six” and “Five over seven”, as if he’d been set some fractions to work out while he was reading the script. Nevertheless, it’s 25 minutes of pure sixties fun, including:
endless corridors marked with identical triangles, some of which paralyse you so that you can be put into a tube – yet they also work on the baddies, who don’t seem to know their own base;
handguns which ‘transitise’ their targets, which is like being paralysed but with more special effects;
a woman whose space helmet is thoughtfully shaped like a flapper girl’s hat to distinguish her from the jolly tough guys;
a super-villain who can do almost anything, except when the good guys are punching his goons and ruining his entire plan, when he stands around for a while picking his nose (or something).
Fowlds plays the thrilling character Tempo, who with his companion Power takes on the might of Logik. They win, by the way. It’s complete rubbish, in an enjoyable sort of fashion (apart from the sexism), and we’re not hugely surprised that it didn’t get picked up.
It was, however, produced by Roberta Leigh, who had already made the superior SF marionette drama Space Patrol, another childhood favourite. The galasphere (spaceship) went round and round like a spinning top, so you could play Space Patrol at primary school and annoy the teachers. We only had one and a half teachers at the village school, but we did our best.
So we liked the puppets more, but as this is greydogtales, we’ll let you make up your own minds. First, Solarnauts:
And then Space Patrol.
It might have been worth mentioning that Thunderbirds also had solarnauts in it, in the episode Sun Probe, but that would have been going too far. And their solarnauts had ridiculously bushy eyebrows. At least Derek Fowlds had his facial hair under control.
So we’ll ignore that, and bid you adieu for now.
Next time: Some serious William Hope Hodgson. Or Torchwood and Roger Zelazny. We can’t decide. And there are more author and artist interviews in the pipeline…
The man who is Carnacki, inside the recording studio, being Dr Who’s Strax, weird fiction and more. Today we’re delighted to be joined by actor and great guy Dan Starkey in another exclusive greydogtales interview. Are we cool, or what? (Please DO NOT answer that question.)
Dan stands out for us, and for many of our listeners, because of his recent, superb audio performance as William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder. His is really the first proper rendition of the role as it was written, and we are not the only ones who have called his performance definitive.
He is, however, a man of many parts (some of them hidden under mounds of prosthetics) and we shall try to do justice to his range by probing away…
greydog: Dan, welcome to greydogtales. Given that you have a background in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic studies, a constant source of interest with us for mythic inspiration, we have to start with one crucial question. Why acting?
dan: Thank you for having me! Yes I did my undergraduate degree and MPhil in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic initially on a whim. I was going to do English Literature at university, but then I saw the subject in the Cambridge prospectus and it captured my attention, as it combined a lot of my other interests apart from “pure” literature, such as aspects of linguistics, history and archaeology.
In the end I realised that my interests ultimately lay more on the literary side of things, but I was very glad to have taken a more round about route in that realisation, acquiring a reading knowledge of four mediaeval languages in the process. I think I probably had at the back of my mind a self-image of some M R James type antiquarian, or slightly less energetic Indiana Jones substitute, but that’s only with the benefit of hindsight.
Certainly when I finished my degrees and returned to reading literature in my own language I was extraordinarily grateful at how relatively straightforward it was to appreciate! Old Irish, for example, is immeasurably more distant, aesthetically as well as linguistically. Acting was always something I did at school, and is the flipside to these rather monkish, hermetic parts of my character. I have had times – especially when I was contemplating becoming an academic which was an obvious career path having studied such an esoteric subject – when I’ve tried to ignore the “actor” side of my nature, but it honestly drives me nuts. I’ve learned to embrace my inner show-off, and thankfully it’s enabled me to pay my rent for most of the last ten years, so I’m doing something right…
greydog: We think you must be. We’ve been digging. You were nominated as Best Male Performance at the Off West End Theatre Awards (Offies) in 2012. You’ve been involved in the Fitzrovia Radio Hour, classic radio plays of the 40’s and 50’s performed in front of a studio audience, and much other audio work. And of course, you had numerous appearances on Dr Who and Wizards Vs Aliens. Which do you prefer? Treading the boards, TV or audio?
dan: It’s great to have a mixture of things to do, though it seems inevitable that the grass on the other side is always greener: I’ll be doing a play, and I’ll think, wouldn’t it be nice to do some TV, or I’m doing a talking book and I feel the urge to get on stage and experience the crackle of live performance. As I’ve mentioned above, I think different media allow you to satiate different impulses you have as a performer, whether it’s the intimacy of an audio performance when it’s just you and the microphone, or the adrenaline rush of doing live theatre on stage in a thousand-seater auditorium.
On a purely mercenary level, it’s worth noting that the most fulfilling jobs aesthetically are not necessarily the best paid, whereas saying three words in a voice-over for a Skoda commercial – to pluck an example out of the air – could pay your rent for a few months, so being a bit “pick and mix” is a necessity!
greydog:We want to hear more about you, Carnacki and Hope Hodgson, but we feel we should address the Sontaran in the room. When we announced you were joining us, rather a lot of listeners went “Oooh, Strax. We love him!”. The character is enormously popular. Was your transition from multiple Sontarans to Strax himself by accident, or something you actively went for?
dan: I had no idea prior to getting the script for “A Good Man Goes to War”, the story in which Strax makes his debut, that I was going to have more than a token couple of lines in the background as another Sontaran, and in that story Strax did appear to die. He was a character who leapt off the page, as did Vastra and Jenny, and clearly they struck a chord with both the production team and the viewers. When you get given the opportunity to play such a fun character that people love, you’ve got to go with it!
greydog: We know that there are a lot of folk out there who are glad you did. We write weird fiction, but sadly, we’ve never come up with a female Silurian detective, married to a young Victorian woman, who is supported by a literal-minded alien warrior with nursing credentials. Is it fun to perform your role in the Paternoster gang, or just work?
dan: It’s both! I remember the first time I played a Sontaran, Commander Skorr, back in 2007. It was my first television part anyway, but after getting used to the surreality of wearing a rubber suit for the best part of fifteen hours a day, and having my head poked in fascination by David Tennant, I remember spending the best part of an entire day running around a warehouse, shooting soldiers with a zap gun and laughing insanely. At various points it did occur to me that I was actually getting paid to do it as well, and reeling in incredulity, although that might have been due to overheating in my foam latex mask. With Strax, I’m always very well served by the writing, and even if I’ve only one line in a scene, I know it’s likely to be a memorable one.
greydog: Let’s shift through time and space, avoiding the comment that Madam Vastra isn’t far from being an occult detective herself. Carnacki. Producer Scott Handcock spoke to us about the background to the audiobook a few weeks ago (see carnacki lives!). He said that you were immediately interested when you heard about the plan for Hope Hodgson’s tales. So you were already quite a fan?
dan: I had read a couple of the Carnacki stories, having been introduced to the character by his appearance among the 1910 grouping of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the various iterations of which are a marvellous primer for different types of weird and pulp fiction over the last century or so! I believe that the former Doctor Who script editor Andrew Cartmel had referenced Carnacki in some of the Doctor Who spin-off literature of the 90s, so I had been aware of him for a while.
Reading the stories a bit closer, in preparation for performing them, gave me a deeper appreciation for the character and he’s quite fun in that he’s a balance of the bluff and vulnerable. He affects his listeners in that he lets them into his thought processes, the shame and terror, as well as his rational, methodical attitude to the supernatural – or ab-natural as he dubs it. I love all the references to stories we haven’t seen as well. I’m always a sucker for a bit of world-building…
greydog: As editor/publisher and media enthusiast James Bojiacuk recently said, “(Starkey) is able to take Hodgson’s thin characterization and – with nothing more than acting and emphasis – make Carnacki a compelling, full character. It’s exceptional.” How did you manage to bring such life to the role?
dan: I’m delighted with how well it’s all gone down. I hope it doesn’t sound glib, but I used the techniques I always utilise in these occasions: I read the text closely and use my imagination! I think the feeling of the period is evoked very clearly in the writing, and that is very helpful in locating the voices for me. Carnacki’s obviously an Edwardian gent judging by his diction, and I think that rather being an impediment, the rather florid language in some passages gives you more to chew on and play with, than a bit of bland neutral prose would. The supporting characters are also quite boldly drawn, especially in the case of the Irish characters in The House in the Laurels, being written in an almost phonetic Edwardian stage Irish, so that really necessitates you go for it in terms of characterisation, as something half-hearted just wouldn’t make sense of the text at all!
greydog: For the uninformed, like ourselves, what’s it like when you get into the recording studio? Serene and solitary, or surrounded by tutting sound engineers and producers looking at their watches? Hard chair and a gun to your head, or a comfy sofa and a pot of tea?
dan: It depends on the nature of the recording. For Carnacki, as it’s a solo read for the most part, it was just me in the booth with Scott outside giving notes over a microphone and Neil Gardner – who runs the studio – at his sound-desk, making sure all the technical details are ok. I’ve done audiobooks with just Neil though, so it can be an oddly intimate business, talking to yourself for eight hours or so on the trot. It’s also quite a darkened little room and especially after lunch, I sometimes take a power-nap in between chapters to keep myself fresh. I’m very good at napping, which I learnt how to do on touring theatre. With a full cast audio drama, of the type I’ve done for BBC Radio and Big Finish Productions, it’s much more convivial, with a green room and studio full of other actors to interact with.
On that note it was lovely to see Joe Kloska again – who plays Dodgson – who I first met and worked with many moons ago when we were both recent drama school graduates. I’ve met very few actors who don’t enjoy doing radio. It’s quick and fun, and whilst you’ve got to be on your toes, it does allow you to play a wider range of parts than you might do on screen or stage, as the main criterion is how you sound as opposed to what you look like. I always find it hilarious when I’m playing some 6’10” heavy on the radio, as in reality I’m only 6’7”…
greydog: And outside of Hope Hodgson, are you an enthusiast of other period authors and classic supernatural or strange tales?
dan: I try to read widely, and I’ve certainly got a taste for the weird amongst other literary flavours. Lovecraft scared the hell out of me when I was about fourteen and I’ve returned to him many times since, as I did to M R James, who I also love. I’ve dabbled in Poe and recently enjoyed The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers. There are a lot of modern writers who are riffing off the “weird” tradition I enjoy, like China Mieville, or Ian (M) Banks, and there are a lot of intrusions of weird subject matter into “literary” fiction, such as Thomas Pynchon, or Will Self.
I recently finished a Hilary Mantel novel from 2005 – before she had such massive success in historical fiction with Wolf Hall and its successors – called Beyond Black, which is a semi-satirical novel about mediumship. It provides an interesting perspective on similar subject matter that Carnacki deals with, transposed into an acutely contemporary setting; it was a nicely mundane and down-at-heel counterpoint to Hodgson’s somewhat more gentlemanly Edwardian vision of the spirit-world.
greydog: Yet another book for our ‘to read’ list. With six Carnacki tales under your belt, what would be your next choice audio role? Are there any other notable characters who you would really like to play?
dan: I’d definitely like to do the remaining Carnacki tales. The Hog in particular is fantastic. Outside that, I’d love to do some of the writers I’ve mentioned above, although I imagine that Lovecraft’s prose would provide even more tongue-twisters than Hope Hodgson’s…
greydog:We may nag Scott Handcock and Big Finish about The Hog at some point, in case they forget. Finally, any acting plans or news for 2016 that you can share with us?
dan: I should be taking part in the 50-Hour London Improvathon at the end of April, which this year is set on the Orient Express (details at:http://www.improvathon.co.uk) There’ll also be the second series of a Children’s BBC comedy programme I was involved in last year, called Class Dismissed which will film in the summer. Apart from those there’s nothing too definite in the diary. In my job I expect the unexpected, like Carnacki!
greydog: Thanks very much for taking the time out to contribute to greydogtales, Dan, and we wish you every success in the future.
Don’t forget that you can hear Dan as Carnacki by picking up the new audio collection from Big Finish. Click the image at the top of the right-hand sidebar for more details. Five hours of occult detective goodness!
If you’re feeling Dr Who-ish, you can see Dan being made up as Strax here:
And you can get even another Dan Starkey audio fix by having a listen to Jago, Litefoot and Strax:
“The worlds of classic and new Doctor Who combine, as one of the favourite associates of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors – the Sontaran Strax – encounters Jago & Litefoot – the Victorian friends of the Fourth Doctor.”
Next time on greydogtales: Weather anomalies in Namibia. Or the knitting pattern for a life-size model of David Tennant. A lurcher in a space helmet. We really don’t know. But we will try to keep it weird…
or Where Next for Lovecraftian Fiction? In which my writing, H P Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, women and other strange phenomena crash into each other, and everyone goes home in tears. Or something like that. Never give a man his own website, he’ll only spoil things. Even worse, I’m on my own today. Editor-in-chief is at the gym; technical support crew and longdogs are otherwise engaged, and Twiglet, for some reason, is chewing a box of three-inch screws.
I therefore head to the trenches without tactical support. Obviously I have no actual answer to the “where next” question. This really ought to be a drunken panel at a convention hosted by a cool Jamaican woman in an armoured exoskeleton with her own cattle-prod. That would be more fun. Much of my own work is Edwardian period occult, and owes more to William Hope Hodgson and J B Priestley than it does to H P Lovecraft. But I do have a few thoughts. Oh dear…
In the past few months since the Great Re-Emergence, I’ve been monitoring anthology calls fairly keenly. After all, I might have a story on an old gum wrapper which could be swiftly adapted to current needs. You know the drill. Cross out “Kevin the Plumber”, replace with “crazed scholar” and add more eldritch bits. There’s nothing worse than a shoggoth stuck in your Non-Euclidean u-bend.
During this time I’ve seen calls for LGBT Cthulhu, Inclusive Cthulhu, Turn HPL on His Head, Post-Lovecraft Weird, Historical Mythos and a number of others. Which is fine. And I’ve read many interviews with contemporary authors (even conducted a few), interviews which considered different aspects of writing in or beyond this area, such as:
representation of women as protagonists and significant antagonists in Lovecraftian works;
countering the bleed of racism from HPL’s personal views into his fiction;
the need to re-explore his basic tropes and themes in non-Mythosian ways;
the abandonment of Lovecraftian themes altogether as having served its time, or being restrictive as a framework for modern weird fiction.
I was pondering on this lot when I accidentally came across a couple of pieces which interested me. I’m not going to comment on them as such, but I do think that both are useful to the discussion.
Sean Eaton writes a blog called The R’Lyeh Tribune, which is invariably worth a browse (see link at end). He recently interviewed Ross Smeltzer, author of The Mark of the Shadow Grove, a collection published in January 2016. I haven’t read the collection yet, but the interview dwells considerably on the influence of Lovecraft. In particular I noted Smeltzer’s comment:
“In each of the novellas in The Mark of the Shadow Grove I wanted to tell stories in the weird and Lovecraftian mold that also included compelling characters, particularly female characters. Their absence in so much classic horror fiction—and their virtual nonexistence in Lovecraft’s canon—speaks to the truncated perspective of many weird fiction writers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Lovecraft ignored women in his fiction because his understanding of who could constitute a protagonist in a story was limited to bookish white men like himself.
“I wanted to incorporate women into a Lovecraftian framework and to do so in a way that upset gendered representations of femininity. I strove for ambiguity. I don’t think I wholly succeeded, but it’s an artistic agenda I plan on pursuing further.”
The very same day (honestly, not one of my usual lies) I found a book down the back of a shelf, a book about which I’d completely forgotten. It was Douglas E Winter’s 1985 collection of interviews with horror authors, Faces of Fear. It contained an interview with Ramsey Campbell, in which the Great Man said:
“What appealed to me about Lovecraft was that sense of enormous cosmic awe… It certainly worked for me then – not so much now, I’m afraid, although I do still like Lovecraft; I find him fascinating for various reasons.”
He then went on to add, concerning his own collection of Lovecraftian fiction, Cold Print (also 1985):
“I was attempting, very clumsily, to get at that sense of awe. But at the same time, it was also very much a means of not dealing with my own fears. It was actually a means of writing about quite different things, and probably rather comforting in some way, being able to achieve something that had nothing directly, personally, psychologically, to do with me… Only when I became impatient with the Lovecraftian structure… did I begin to get on to dealing with things that were a good deal more personal.
“Lovecraft is the most widely imitated American horror writer; M R James is the most imitated British writer; Hitchcock is the most imitated director. The reason is precisely that their technique is part of their surface – you can actually see their technique. It is in the foreground of their stories, to the extent that you can actually see it working and take it as a model.
“So Lovecraft was very much about the style being literally appropriate to the material, but I felt that there were other ways of doing it.”
Of course, Ramsey Campbell was speaking thirty years ago, and I can’t pretend to know what his views would be now, but I like what he says – excepting the suggestion that Cold Print is clumsy in any way. I still love that collection. The rest of his interview is well worth reading, by the way, as are those of the other contributors.
I wanted to present these two fragments for anyone who might have missed them, but naturally I have my own opinions. In fact, I have opinions like Twiglet has dandruff, impossible to eradicate and going all over the place.
I grew up steeped in Lovecraft, forty years ago, and given the weight of all those tentacles at the back of my mind, there is no way I can ignore HPL’s influence. So I did get tempted recently into writing a few Mythos stories. Having done so, I have no excuse for keeping silent, so what was my take?
Of least importance, my first move was with the Sandra’s First Pony series. These stories are Mythos in their roots but very non-Lovecraftian in structure and tone. Enid Blyton and the Chalet School, with a touch of folk-horror and a lot of ill-judged humour. The main protagonists are a cheerful schoolgirl with a shotgun and a violent, slightly psychotic talking pony. Sandra and Mr Bubbles do at least challenge HPL’s short-sighted stereotypes, and if there’s any agenda it’s a feminist one, so I feel reasonably good about that.
But they are only for fun, and I’ve written two serious stories in the last few months. The first, Messages*, is a deeply Mythos tale in which the protagonists are a mother and her daughter, operating beyond normal constraints and barriers. They’re sane, they’re not stereotypical cold-hearted killers or anything like that, and the tale isn’t about sex. It’s about parenting, belief and responsibility. You may or may not enjoy it, but the point was to move forward in a way which might be Mythos but new as well.
The other one is With the Dark and the Storm, which is doing the rounds at the moment, a story seen from the point of view of a small Igbo village in British colonial Africa. I worried about this one, because you don’t counter racism by having old white Yorkshiremen writing about indigenous African beliefs. At the same time, I wanted to see if a good story could be told from a viewpoint other than that of Lovecraft, Edgar Wallace and other writers of the time. The structure itself is quite traditional, the angle not. If that works, or if I should even have tried it, we shall see.
And I can understand why writers such as Ted E Grau (see a voice from the nameless dark ) and others, having contributed powerfully to the Mythos field, seek to move forward rather than dig the same fields over again and again. I sort of feel the same way myself, and yet I constantly get tempted to play among the roots.
So I thought that it might be a good idea to read Dreams from the Witch House – Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror**, and that’s my current bedside book. This collection (edited by Lynne Jamneck) contains some cracking women writers of today, and maybe they might help me decide. Will something new still grow in this strange, slightly tainted soil?
I’ll leave that with you, while I go look up the price of ammunition for a Hopkins and Allen .32 in 1908. Boys, eh?
Whilst we’re on – or off – Cthulhu’s dad, it seemed appropriate to mention a work-in-progress by writer and editor Sam Gafford, who has graced these airwaves a number of times. Normally we touch base with him over William Hope Hodgson, but Sam kindly sent us some artwork by Jason Eckhardt, and we wanted to show it off.
He and Jason are in the process of producing a biographical graphic novel called Some Notes on a Non-Entity: The Life of H P Lovecraft. The title is from an essay by Lovecraft which formed part of Arkham House’s second HPL publication, Beyond the Walls of Sleep, 1943.
This collection is mostly minor pieces, and Some Notes was later released by Arkham in a limited edition (500 copies) twenty years later in 1963. The essay’s most recent outing was in Collected Essays, Volume 5: Philosophy; Autobiography & Miscellany edited by S. T. Joshi (2006)
It’s hoped that the graphic novel will be out by the end of 2016. If you want to keep up with progress, you can wander over to the Facebook page, where more artwork and commentary are added as the great work continues.
Out of space, rather than outer space. Keep your wireless set on, because in a couple of days we have our super brilliant Easter special, an interview with actor Dan Starkey, the new audio Carnacki (and also, for Dr Who fans, Strax the Sontaran, of course)…
As a lurcher your language is complex, with many subtleties and nuances. It has evolved over centuries, and is as graceful as you are. Supplemented by small messages in pee left at key points around the neighbourhood, it is the language of athletes and heroes.
Human language, on the other hand, consists of inarticulate grunts and long, pointless lip movements. A lot of what they say serves no purpose whatsoever – even they seem to think that, going by their expressions when they talk to each other.
So today on Lurchers for Beginners, we’re providing you with…
Training Your Human Part Two: Basic Communication
Last time ( training your human part one ) we mentioned that your human(s) will not understand a lot of what you say, and that you should make allowances for that. This week we’re going to explore trying to ‘talk’ to them, frustrating though it may seem at first. With practice, you will be able to interpret their simplistic attempts at communication, and even get them to respond to basic commands.
What Human Sounds Mean
Most of their conversations with you will be peppered with things like “No”, “Bad” and “Get off there”. These are meaningless words which humans include for no discernible reason. After considerable study, lurcher linguists believe that such words are used to make the human feel dominant and in control. This is probably some sort of throwback to before humans were domesticated. You can safely ignore these bits.
“Ohmygodwhathaveyoudonetothatsofa” is another common but meaningless word. If they are excited about your artistic redecoration of the room (such as your mud drawings on the carpet or your sculpture made of cushion stuffing), they will show it by jumping up and down, pulling at their hair and making high wailing noises. Sometimes they will show their gratitude by letting you outside for a moment while they sit and appreciate what you have done for them.
Learn instead to recognise key sounds they make like “Breakfast”, “Dinner” and “Walk”. These are the useful parts of their language. You can even use basic commands to encourage communication along these lines (see Commands below).
When out and about, they will use words like “Heel” and “Fetch”. As you are perfectly aware that they have a heel (two, in fact, which tells you something about their ability to count) this needs little response.
Fetch is an odd one – if they’d wanted the ball, stick or whatever, why did they throw it away? You can try taking the ball back to them, but there’s a good chance they’ll only throw it away again. On the other hand, if you do fetch them important things, like a dead rat or a lump of fox poo, they make a fuss. It’s up to you if you want to bother with this one.
Note: Humans are also bad with names. If you are called Twiglet, for example, your humans will vary this quite bizarrely – Twig, Twiggie, Wiggly, Wodger, Old Bear, Smelly, Bloody Nuisance, Pain in the Arse and so on. Indulge them. As long as your name is accompanied by “Breakfast”, “Dinner” or “Walk”, it doesn’t really matter. You know that your name is actually Mighty Brown Swimming-Claw, Scourge of the Lower Street Not Including the Last Lamp-Post, and there’s no chance that they’ll ever manage to remember that.
Let’s look at how to get them to understand you on a verbal level. There are times when they will seem as dumb as a sack of cats, but if you keep at it, some of them will eventually catch on. There are a few simple techniques which can help, as outlined below.
If you suffer a minor bruise or injury – Merely pointing out that you have a small cut will not be noticed. The answer is to shriek loudly at the top of your voice, as if your leg had come off. Rolling your eyes and limping dramatically will give impact to your point. Try to achieve a cross between an over-paid footballer and an opera singer.
If you see another dog off the leash while going for a walk – Bark loudly and pull on your own lead in sudden surges which unbalance your human. That will alert them to the fact that the other dog should be leashed up like you. Or that you should both be off.
If you see a cat, squirrel, rabbit, or lame buffalo that might be potential prey – Combine shrieking and barking to achieve an aesthetic affect which sets everyone’s teeth on edge. This will remind them that you are a proud hunting beast, and not a door-stop.
If a stranger comes into the house at night – Bark and then point at the fridge. If this is when the usual humans are out, it may be a burglar, but they’re not going to take anything of yours, so why get worked up about it? You’re not one of these common guard dogs, for goodness sake, you’re a lurcher. And there’s always the chance that they’ll look in the fridge themselves and leave the door open.
The more intelligent humans can be trained to respond to simple commands. Don’t overdo it, as they still have limitations. We suggest some useful starting points:
The short, single bark – Ideal to indicate that you want something right now, not tomorrow or when they’re ready, thank you. Make sure that the bark is abrupt and penetrating. Useful for walks, going outside and food. If ignored, wait until their attention drifts and then do it again suddenly without warning, preferably when they’re carrying something.
The repeated short bark – Used to point out that they ignored the single bark, and that it’s time they got their act together. This can also be used to get the attention of the human pack and say “Gather round, I have something to say to you all.”
The long, penetrating whine – Useful for indicating that you want more attention, your bottom rubbing or a more comfortable place on the sofa. Remember to keep it up for half an hour at least, and try to sound deeply sorrowful, even if all you want is an ear scratch. They will give in eventually.
The low growl– A simple command to go away because you do not intend to get off the bed, give them your bone etc. Self-explanatory. How would they like it if you took their steak dinner? Well, OK, you did, but that’s not the point. They’re not in charge, after all.
Bark and howl combination – Handy to point out that they’ve left you shut in the wrong room, or that it’s cold outside and you want to come in. Humans enjoy ghost stories, so make sure your howl evokes the suffering of the dead, the mournful fate of lost souls, etc.
Note: If you spot a set of headphones or earplugs around the house, this means that they are looking for ways to block out your commands. Chew these up immediately and leave the remains lying around to make your point. It may also be a good idea to chew up the TV remote, in case they try to ignore you that way.
Practice these phrases and commands regularly. Once disobedience sets in with humans, it can takes months of hard work to get them back under control again. If they are obedient, then reinforce this with small gestures, such as a wag, a lick or the occasional soulful look, but don’t overdo it. Any human who thinks he or she is boss in your home will soon become a bloody nuisance, and everyone will suffer as a result.
Be firm, be fair, and be a lurcher.
Lurchers for Beginners will return soon. In the meantime, we’ll be back in a couple of days with the usual weird and supernatural stuff. Treat yourself – come home to greydogtales…