A question that keeps arising in the Order from Chaos investigations documented on this site is ‘why are things being kept?’ One answer is that an item reminds us of people or events that we want to remember; and remembering such things seems to be important for humans. The parable below hints at a reason why.
Doggie Tales – a parable about existence in our world
On platform 5 at Slough railway station there’s a glass box on the wall and it contains the stuffed remains of Station Jim, a beloved dog well known to passengers using the station in the 1890s. A plaque explains as follows:
“Dog Jim was first brought to Slough station when he was about three months old. He was like a ball of wool then, and could be carried about in an overcoat pocket. The first trick taught him was to get over the stairs of the footbridge, and he learnt it so well that he never once crossed the metals from the time he was brought here to the time of his death.
He started his duties as Canine Collector for the Great Western Railway Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund when he was about four months old but, because he was in bad health, he was only actually collecting about two years or so. Yet he managed to place about £40 to the account of the Fund. He only once had a piece of gold put in his box — a half sovereign. On several occasions half crowns were found, but the majority of the coins he collected were pennies and halfpennies. After a time he was taught to bark whenever he received a coin, which caused a great deal of amusement to his numerous patrons. One Sunday during the summer of 1896, a hospital parade was organised at Southall, and his trainer was asked to take him up there to collect. The result was that when his boxes were opened by the Treasurer 265 coins were in them. There were only about five pieces of silver, but when it is remembered that he barked for each coin given him, this must be regarded as a good afternoon’s work.
His railway journeys were few in number. On one occasion he went to Leamington; that was his longest ride. Another time he got into a train and went to Paddington, but was seen by one of the guards and promptly sent back again. Another day he got into a train and was taken into Windsor. The officials saw him, and wanted to put him in the next train home, but he would not agree to that, and walked back through Eton.
He knew a great many amusing tricks. He would sit up and beg, or lie down and “die”; he could make a bow when asked, or stand up on his hind legs. He would get up and sit in a chair and look quite at home with a pipe in his mouth and cap on his head. He would express his feelings in a very noisy manner when he heard any music. If anyone threw a lighted match or a piece of lighted paper on the ground he would extinguish it with a growl. If a ladder was placed against the wall he would climb it. He would play leap frog with the boys; he would escort them off the station if told to do so, but would never bite them. At a St. John Ambulance Examination held at this station he laid down on one of the stretchers and allowed himself to be bandaged up with the rest of the “injured”. He was a splendid swimmer and a very good house dog. He died suddenly in his harness on the platform on the evening of November 19th 1896, and was afterwards placed here by voluntary contributions from a number of the residents in Slough and the staff at this station.” [reproduced on 15May2019 from the Wikipedia entry for Slough Railway Station]
I first came across Station Jim when my office moved to a building opposite Slough Station in 1986 and I occasionally travelled up to London for meetings. There he was in his glass case, 90 years after his death, still intriguing passengers as they waited for their trains. He stuck in my mind, and although I haven’t visited Slough station for 25 years, he popped up in my head as I thought about writing this piece. I googled him and came up with his story straight away. In fact, a search for ‘Station Jim Slough’ produces some 685,000 hits (a search for just ‘Station Jim’ results in a misleadingly huge number of hits probably because a TV film based very loosely on the dog was made in 2001).
Wikipedia cites the Office of Rail and Road‘s statistics in saying that Slough railway station has over 4 million users every year; so it’s reasonable to suppose that, since the display was installed in the late 1890s, many millions of different people must have looked at Station Jim’s taxidermied remains and read about his life. His display and plaque bear testimony to his existence; and they continue to create and reinforce his memory in the minds of hundreds of thousands of people every year, just as his physical presence on the platforms did all those years ago.
Our beloved Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Alfie, died peacefully a week ago from a heart attack aged eleven. He was a loving dog and just wanted to be close to us all the time. Two days after he died we gave all his artefacts – baskets, bowls, food, etc to a dog charity with the one exception of Monkey, the first stuffed toy he ever had and his favourite throughout his life. Monkey has had a wash and now resides on the settee. Alfie was an integral part of our lives, and was also loved by other members of our family and friends. He inspired the concept of ‘Alfie time’ – 6pm – time for drinks and snacks. It was of course the crisps, pretzels, cheesy nibbles etc. that Alfie knew he was entitled to, that drove him to remind us every evening (sometimes with extravagant displays of crouching and turning and whimpering and short barks) when it was Alfie Time. Alfie Time became an established feature in our lives and will be forever thus for us and family and some friends.
We have many photos of Alfie in the indexed and labelled digital family photo collection and physical photo collection in albums, that I have painstakingly built up from all the photos and negatives that I could find in our house and my mother’s house. In fact, a search of the digital collection found 259 photos with Alfie in the file title. Many of these are also in the physical albums. From time to time we’ll look at these photos and they will bring back all our memories of Alfie, how he behaved around the house, how he was so pleased to see when we returned to the house, and all the good times we had with him when we took him away with us. We can’t be certain what will happen to our physical and digital photo collections after we are gone; but we would hope that our children and grandchildren would value this family archive enough to look after it and perhaps even look at it occasionally. If and when they do, they will find Alfie’s picture appearing constantly throughout those eleven years of his life together with descriptions in the file titles and album slip-in tabs of what he was doing and reflecting the close bond he had with us. As they look at those photos, the memories of those who knew Alfie will come flooding back. For our grandchildren, who only knew Alfie briefly up to when they were about 2 and 3 years old, the photos will bring meaning and tangibility to some traces in their minds. For those who come later, the images and words (should they survive the years) will create and reinforce memories of our plucky, loving dog.
When I was three, my mother and father took me to Singapore where my father had got a job as a shipping agent. Shortly after arriving there, we got a dog – a dachshund called Mandy. I have some clear memories of Mandy, and there are 8 photos of her in the family photo collection. I went home to boarding school when I was eight and sometime after that Mandy died. My mother tells me she died peacefully lying on the drive in the sun while she was out. She and I both remember Mandy with fondness. However, my father is dead and none of the rest of the family ever met Mandy, so really we are the only two who have a strong recollection of her time on this earth. Perhaps there are one or two old timers in their eighties and nineties who came to our house in Kheam Hock Rd and retain a fragmentary image in their minds of her – but they’re dying out fast. I mention Mandy to the family very occassionally and her photos might be stumbled on in the photo collection from time to time; but her presence in our collective minds is dimming as the years go by. Eventually there’ll be just those 8 photos and associated words in the file titles (should they survive the generations) that will bear testimony to the part that Mandy played in our lives at Kheam Hock Rd.
My wife’s family had a dog when she was little. He was called Bruce, and they lived in a house in Leeds. My wife remembers Bruce but rarely talks about him; and I have no recollection of conversations with her mother, brothers or sisters about Bruce – in fact, her two brothers had not even been born before Bruce died. I’ve found 2 pictures of Bruce in the family photo collection and, although I must have indexed them and created their file titles, I’d forgotten they were there or what they looked like. They have left new traces in my mind overlayed with the conversation I had with my wife about him yesterday morning. They are images and information of interest but they inspire no emotion in me; and I guess my wife feels the same about what I tell her about Mandy. Perhaps my wife will talk about Bruce to the family sometimes in the future, but, like Mandy, Bruce’s presence in this world will eventually fade to just those two black and white photos that may spark an interest in those who see them.
My mother’s parents got a dog – a wire-haired terrier – soon after we moved out to Singapore in 1953. We have just one photo of my grandfather and the dog taken in the mid 1950s in the garden in Old Retford Rd, Sheffield. My mother never met the dog and can’t remember what it was called or anything else about him – only that he was run over outside the house to the great mortification of her parents.
Earlier generations of our family probably – possibly – had dogs…. Who knows?