We Interrupt This Broadcast…

A quick note to my many lurcher and longdog friends. As you might have noticed, greydogtales is being taken over by spooky stuff this October. I do hope that you will hang in there, as doggy antics and anecdotes will commence again in November, including lurchers in the garden and, if I ever get my act together, a permanent gallery of lurcher and longdog ‘types’ for your enjoyment.


the greydogtales family leaving home for a month

Of course, if you like weird stories and lurchers, call in during the next few weeks. You might just enjoy some of it!


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Game of Groans and Clanking Chains

Q. What’s huge and black with eyes like burning coals, its slavering jaws opening wide to engulf its victims? A. I don’t know, but there’s one right behind you… argghhhh! Creepy autumn is on its way, so it’s time to introduce some of the Other Dogs. These are the ones you’d never let play ‘bitey face’, the spectral hounds of the North.

Yorkshire has a solid history of terrifying, dog-like creatures roaming its moors and alleys, and not all of them are politicians. The best known of our monstrous brood is perhaps the barghest. If it’s new to you, the barghest is a huge intelligent dog, dark and somewhat wolf-like in appearance, with piercing eyes and a penchant for haunting lonely places. Yes, we were there long before Game of Thrones and its dire-wolves (although at least Sean Bean is a child of God’s Own Country). No-one knows exactly where the name comes from, because there are too many possible roots. Bier-geist, as in a spirit of the funeral bier, is one; burgh-ghost is another, as in a spirit which troubles a town. The name is particularly common in North Yorkshire – haunted Whitby is supposed to have a barghest – but for variants in other parts see later below.

padfootThe barghest is associated with death in one form or another. It may come when a death is due, or when a death has occurred, its slinking black body a warning to the living. It may be seen only by the doomed or sick person, or it may be spotted lying on the threshold of someone due to expire. Its presence is often heralded by the clanking of unseen chains. Occasionally the barghest makes its own arrangements for death by hunting down appropriate targets and consuming them. Lonely travellers are a popular choice, and to be fair to the barghest, this does avoid hanging around waiting for someone to get the sniffles.

Some suggest that the dog in folklore is associated with scavenging, and with digging up bones from graveyards, hence the morbid links with the barghest. There is in fact one particularly relevant counterpart to Yorkshire’s barghest in Normandy and the Channel Islands, the rongeur d’os (gnawer of bones), a large phantom dog of death which again rattles its chain in the night.

(Our own gaunt black hound, Chilli, appears spookily out of nowhere, but that tends to be when walkies are due, or when we’ve settled down comfortably and really need a terrifying creature shoving her elbows into our faces to round off the evening.)

One of the most famous barghests is that which haunts Trollers Gill, a moody limestone gorge in the Yorkshire Dales, closely followed by the one which creeps into the snickelways of the city of York and takes down unwary folk. Presumably the latter one lives on a diet of squishy tourists and crunchy cameras. Having tramped Trollers Gill and York many times, I’m afraid (or relieved) to say that I’ve never encountered a barghest in either locale. Trollers Gill early in the morning, or at dusk, is certainly atmospheric enough to host a barghest or two.

trollers-gill7Trollers Gill, rather wetter than usual

The barghest has its literary fans – it crops up in, amongst others, Robin Jarvis (The Whitby Witches), Roald Dahl (The Witches) and Neil Gaiman’s short story Black Dog apparently (but I haven’t read the last one, so I can’t be more precise).

Legends of black dogs and spectral hounds abound up here. Another name, or variant, is the pad-foot, seen in the West Riding around Leeds, Bradford and other modest settlements. The pad-foot can be heard behind you, pad pad pad, sometimes followed by a clank of chains and then the sight of a large baleful dog. Better not to turn round, they say, but to leg it home. The pad-foot is alternatively known as the gytrash or guytrash (not to be confused with guy-trash, the general rubbish left behind by passing men). The gytrash also crops up in literature – it’s mentioned in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, one of my favourite books from school for some reason. Must have been the gothicky bits, moody Rochester and the mad-woman in the attic.

“I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a ‘Gytrash,’ which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travelers, as this horse was now coming upon me.

“It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees.”

Rather disappointingly, this apparition turned out to be nothing more than Mr. Rochester’s dog.

I use the word ‘dog’ to describe these creatures, but as in Bronte, many of the stories suggest that the barghest, pad-foot or gytrash can take other shapes at will. It can appear as a dark shaggy bear, or a horse-like thing with the same burning eyes, and even as a headless human in some tales. Where the red eyes go in that case is open to conjecture.

We also have the legend of the gabble-ratchets, otherwise known as Gabriel Hounds, in Yorkshire. These are usually heard rather than seen, a howling that passes above and around you. Some connect them to the North European Wild Hunt, others to the concept of Gabriel, the angel who acts as the Messenger of God. The message sent by the gabble-ratchets is not usually a positive one, as again it’s a portent of imminent death. The alternative is that the sound of these terrible beasts is actually that of migrating geese, but that sounds much less likely than an archangels’ attendant pack of hounds riding the storm, doesn’t it?

If you like odd connections, as I do, then you might want to know that the 1972 Genesis album Foxtrot has a long, bizarre track called Supper’s Ready, which includes a section entitled thus: Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet). Peter ‘Non-Archangel’ Gabriel’s work, of course…

And yes, related legends do exist in other counties of England, but I’m prejudiced and this is my blog, so I don’t want any grumpy Lancastrians writing in and complaining. As a barghest would say, after you’ve eaten a few white roses, you just can’t go back.

So, we return to semi-reality. There’ll be one more general post here before the October horror-fest, so do call in during the month of mellow fruitfulness, even if it’s only to count how many bizarre punctuation mistakes I make and to complain about the lack of lurcher-related stuff for a while.

Dear Sir. I must protest in the strongest manner about a so-called ‘blog’ on ‘literature, lurchers and life’ which interrupts my canine fun to publish four weeks of arrant nonsense about horror and life after death.

Yrs, Major Cornelius Hetherington Smythe (deceased).

Goodnight, and don’t let the barghest bite.

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Lurchers for Beginners 2: This Time It’s Personal

You now know what a lurcher is. You are fully prepared for the general mayhem, and have secured yourself and your home against lurcher-related disasters. At this point we must make it clear that you have missed something. You don’t know what you’ve missed, but your dog does. The lurcher is a cunning beast…

But this does allow us to move onto a few more advanced concepts. There may even be some serious points here, but we did say ‘advanced’.

The Alpha

Lurchers like being in packs, and will happily scoot off into the distance en masse. The pack is a working unit, and there is no finer sight than three or four lurchers shrieking wildly as the entire pack completely fails to climb a tree and get that damn squirrel. In fact, they like packs so much that they will also investigate that pack of biscuits, that pack of wafer-thin ham, and especially that pack of pork chops which you left in the bottom of the shopping bag by mistake.

Most packs have alphas. They may have omegas, as well, but the alphas don’t let them get a word in. Alphas can be female or male, proving that dogs recognised the work of the suffragette movement long before people did. In your home, the alpha dog’s main tasks are to get the food before anyone else (including you), keep the food whether they want it or not, and tell everyone that they’re keeping it in no uncertain terms.

seawaterAn alpha female waits for a dim pack member to discover that seawater tastes yucky

Alpha dogs, remembering the dull time they used to spend in caves, also tend to grab the best and highest places to sleep. Many amusing ‘experts’ make it clear that you, the human, must be the alpha in order to retain control and discipline. This is a sound theory. In practice it is probably why:

a) You cannot get onto the sofa, and
b) If you are on the sofa, the lurcher is on top of you.

In fact, most lurchers, alpha or omega, believe they are lap-dogs. This leads to pleasant companionship until your lurcher is 20 kilos and over, at which point it leads to compression injuries, deep vein thrombosis or cramp. The dog’s fine, though, so that’s alright.

Useful Exercise A: Lock yourself in the bathroom, ignore the scrabbling outside the door and say to yourself “I am the alpha.” ten times. It won’t make much difference, but it’s always good to have ‘you’ time.


The wide martingale/greyhound collar is standard because, hey, would you want to be choked twice a day? If you would, then we doubt you have the time or energy to deal with lurchers. Well fitted head-collars (such as a Halti) can also work well, oddly enough both for lurchers and for devotees of peculiar erotic practices.

The next most vital piece of equipment is the lead. Leads are controversial devices, especially with your lurcher(s), but we at greydogtales are here to give you a quick run-down.

A good simple lead can be made of leather, reinforced fabric or nylon. It should be made of combat-tested kevlar/carbon fibre and vetted by NASA to be able to restrain a space shuttle, but it probably won’t be. You will be washing your lead, because your lead will be wet, tangled, muddy, and smeared with fox poo and bird droppings. Nylon is easiest to wash, generally. Leather is nice, but can become very, very smelly and stiff after a while, so needs more care.

Metal chain leads are clanky, heavy and, if you walk your dogs near cattle fences, extremely good at transmitting a surprising electric shock when your dogs pees on or investigates a live fence. greydogtales has been there.

Long-line leads are a Good Idea when training for recall. If you are lucky. Lurchers are known to have two methods for dealing with long-line leads. The first is to stand there until you get bored and take the long-line off, at which point the lurcher runs away at high speed. The second is to run at an equally high speed in a circular motion until you are completely trussed up in 30 metres of durable nylon rope. Some patience is required.

Extendable leads are not recommended, unless you have a thick-necked, very slow old bassett hound which likes to potter at a slight distance. They seem tempting, until the lurcher runs off and hits the end of the lead’s length.  Which they will. Three things can happen at this point:

a) Bits of the dog break;
b) Bits of you break;
c) The ratchet mechanism and/or the clasps break.

None of these make an extendable lead worth the risk.

Useful Exercise B: Have a partner or friend take you shopping with a choke chain on, and see how you like being asphyxiated every time you head towards that special offer on malt whisky.

Poo bags are a must. Do practice indoors first, though, and get used to poking your fingers through them and getting something icky all over your hand. Cold, lumpy chocolate pudding is an excellent substitute to use in practice sessions. Also be aware that if there are nettles or spiky bushes around, some lurchers will shove their bums in these, just to watch you struggle. Lurchers have a very keen sense of humour. They will also wait to relieve themselves until you are in full view of nearby pedestrians, grumpy homeowners and slow moving traffic, at which point they will have a graphic bowel movement. It amuses them.

More complex devices for scooping up poo are available, but most make you look like a deranged person trying to hoover the pavement.

Muzzles are another Serious Subject, and may be tackled at a later date, if our alpha allows us to take ours off.

We were also reminded that in the last instalment of Lurchers for Beginners, we did not mention the word W-A-L-K-I-E-S. This is partly because even typing the word is risky, and partly because at greydogtales we have a simple, non-verbal system to alert the dogs that a walk is imminent. This consists of:

  • putting on anything that looks like a coat or jacket
  • going anywhere near the front door, even if you were heading upstairs
  • looking like you were going near the front door
  • moving a lead out of the way to get at the post in the hallway

All of the above spell D-O-O-M.

Useful Exercise C: Try to leave your house without your dog(s) noticing. No? I told you.

And that’s it for now, my dearest listeners. October and Hallowe’en are on their way, and there is spooky stuff coming. Do not abandon ship, though – longdog updates will continue (on and off!).

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Shake Your Scary (Car) Booty

There is one Forbidden Zone, a Dark Place into which Django cannot look, cannot go. Car boot sales. He is, let’s face it, a bumbling, easy going dog, but he is a piddler extraordinaire. I stand by shops and pretend I don’t know him as he pees down someone’s advertising sign, or heads straight for the display outside the expensive florists. So car boots are a no-no for him. I cannot rummage through the contents of someone’s garage at a leisurely pace knowing that at any minute he’s going to water a box of vintage vinyl collectables.

We go to these events dogless, therefore, throughout the summer, and dig deep. My great joy is the hunting down and capture of old audiotapes. It’s a CD/mp3+ world, and so people gradually offload their stretched, half-magnetised audiobooks, usually into my waiting hands. Car boots are also wonderful for haggling, which I love. The thrill of getting fifty pence knocked off a tatty out-of-print paperback must be the same feeling achieved thousands of years ago, when you saw a mammoth trip over and told your tribe that you did that. Ah, that hunting instinct, finely honed through years of savaging innocent cardboard boxes on a Sunday morning…

Not that it’s relevant, but we also try and pick car boot sales where you can get a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich, with lots of brown sauce, so that we get a healthy balanced breakfast at the same time.horraudio1b

Horror and ghost story audiotapes are my primary prey, as you might expect, for many tapes are no longer available commercially. I love the hiss and thunk of a cassette tape ploughing its way along, and the happy hours spent rewinding one with a pencil, or trying to get the end of the tape back into the spool bit. Yes, I could get the digital download of some of them for my gas-powered computer, but it’s not the same. Making fancy bread, pizza dough and a bloody great sink-the-Bismark fruit cake? Set yourself up in the kitchen with an audiotape, and drift into baking bliss. Flour everywhere, feral brown dogs trying to steal the ingredients and something spine-shivery in the background.

Vincent Price, for example, reading The Speciality of the House, or Christopher Lee’s rendition of The Monkey’s Paw. The Room in the Tower by E F Benson, or one of Saki’s unpleasant little understated stories. Patricia Hodge reading Black Dog by Penelope Lively. All good.

I adore Vincent Price’s range, his ability to convey menace in quite soft tones, never needing to overdo it. The Price of Fear is a great series, well worth getting if you can. And Christopher Lee must be familiar to you anyway, with those deep tones which make you shiver.

horraudio2bEven better than audiotape, how many people here have got a copy of The King of Elfand’s Daughter LP on vinyl? A concept by two members of Steeleye “All Around my Cat” Span, the album not only has Mary Hopkins (!) and Alexis Corner, amongst others, but features Christopher Lee as the Elf-King himself.

“Why should my daughter be taken by pitiless time? This… Shall… Not… Be!”

Stunning stuff. I can’t say I like every song, but Christopher does deliver his part. I’m sure Lord Dunsany, the original author, would be tapping his toes to it, had he not died in 1957.

My favourite modern narrator, as mentioned weeks ago in Horror without Wires, is Wayne June. He reads, amongst other things, a great series called The Dark Worlds of H P Lovecraft, which really do the job. Six CDs or downloads of HPL’s creepy stories, about 20 hours (I’m guessing) of something nasty in the brain-shed. Inasmuch as I would ever recommend anything to my innocent, trusting listeners, I back these to the hilt.

(Which is odd for me, because I don’t like being told what to like. I deliberately buy strangely-named cheap toothpaste with arabic writing on it in order to take my stand against TV adverts, for example. “No, I’m not a dentist, but my white coat makes it clear that I know more about toothpaste than you do.” Bugger off. It’s my mouth. The rest of my teeth are going to fall out without the insidious influence of multi-global corporations, thank you very much.)

But I lost track there (or a number of tracks). Wayne June conveys menace without shouting at you, by letting it sink in instead. I don’t mind the odd horror film where everyone shrieks “I’m very upset! And “This is BADBADBAD!” but when you have audio only, you want his beautifully paced narration telling you just how awfully worrying things are, or are about to become.

So it’s official – Wayne June is more scary than seeing your rye and seed dough collapse right before you put it in the oven.

Or Django edging inches closer to someone’s perfect display of antique porcelain and slowly, slowly cocking his leg…

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Literature, lurchers and life