My Auntie Kathleen always had a dog. More precisely, she had a series of dogs, all of them rescued, all of them extremely badly behaved and all of them called Roger. “Get down, Roger!” When asked what breed any of them was, she always replied: “He’s a Bitzer.” Impressed but uncertain eyes would rest on Roger until Auntie, with classic timing, added: “Bits of this, bits of that.”
I’m pretty sure that Sid was a Bitzer too. Forty years ago, he was always about, a tousled free spirit, padding in and out of the shops in Chalcot Road. At the time, No. 50 was a butcher’s and No. 42 a deli of sorts, so one can understand the attraction, but the impression Sid always gave was that he was just passing by. I never knew where he lived, nor ever saw him with a minder.
Several years earlier, I went one evening to view a flat to rent in Regent’s Park Road, above one of the shops. As we walked upstairs in the dark, a growl sounded, deep with menace. “Steady, Tiny,” said a voice. We exchanged nervous looks. He didn’t sound very tiny. And he wasn’t, for as we reached a landing and entered the flat, the front room seemed filled with a huge and slobbering dog. Gingerly we edged around the outside of the room, trying to avoid eye contact with the hound of the Baskervilles. We escaped quickly, resolving to look elsewhere, and sensing perhaps that while in time Tiny might have gone, the memory would linger on.
Jess was another Bitzer. Locals who still regret losing Clare’s Kitchen from No. 41 Chalcot Road will recall its popular four-footed member of staff. Jess was quiet and undemonstrative, but presumably could recognise a health and safety inspector at fifty paces. Perhaps Sid had passed on the art of looking as if you’re just passing through.
Every dog has his day, of course, and slips from recall; though not Auntie Kathleen’s, with her row of framed photographs on the mantelpiece, all marked Roger. If he, or rather they, and Tiny and Jess stay doggedly in the memory, it may be because then there were so few. Now there are so many. And so small. The day of the designer dog has clearly arrived. I stroll on, musing on what possible link there can be between Primrose Hill’s dogs getting smaller, whilst its cars get bigger.
By Dick Bird