Dogs at the door
I was all freckles and blond hair; checked flares and a green tank top. I admit that I remember the tank top more from Kodak moments than memory. Periods of anxiety and chronic depression have swept through my history, leaving me with fragments of memory but I’ll make a grab at some of these in an effort to bring together a memoir of blurred images and distorted sounds from the 1970s.
One thing I do know for certain though is that at the time of this story, I had been chosen by God to enjoy eternal life on a paradise earth. I was a very lucky boy!
I remember a little blue anorak with a red lining and knitted cuffs, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have been wearing that. An anorak wouldn’t have been smart enough for our ministry work. That’s what I was doing when I went with my Mum or Dad to knock on strangers’ doors. Our sales pitch was the end of the world and how to survive it, which apparently was good news but I reckon my Mum and Dad were biased. I was five years old and dressed like a small business man who’d been sent by God to save your
soul. After all nobody would take an apocalyptic message seriously from a kid in an anorak. No, when a child hands you a magazine warning of your impending death at the hands of a wrathful God, you want him in a bottle green tank-top. And a tie. Otherwise you just wouldn’t believe him.
Most Saturday mornings would be spent this way, me and my Dad walking the streets on the outskirts of East London. My Dad was a slight man with black heavy framed glasses, a dark suit and in his hand a briefcase laden with magazines, monochrome books and pamphlets. God’s work needed
suitably serious luggage not some scuffed sports bag. Maybe we would have had more success if we’d gone with a sporting look, red tracksuits, Adidas Stan Smiths and a Fred Perry holdall – fleet footed messengers from heaven rather than accountants from Armageddon.
I remember them as wide streets, brown Austin Allegros and white Ford Escorts parked by yellowing verges. There seemed more room for people. Spacious. Full of fun. Children on bikes and dolls on the pavement.
It was a warm morning, I was hot in my shirt and tie and thirsty and I had peaked on my Ribena far too early.
“Are we going to do much longer Dad?” I said hoping we wouldn’t be doing the whole road.
My dad looked at the small section of street map that was glued to a buff coloured piece of card in a clear plastic wallet.
“Well I’d like us to at least get to the corner of Mortlake Road.” My dad showed me Mortlake Road on the little map on the territory card.
“How far’s that?” I whined. I was bored now.
“Probably about….what…maybe another 15 doors,” my Dad said his eyes begging for my calm response.
“15? That could take ages,” I said trying not to sound too fed up.
“Maybe we’ll manage to place some magazines. Or find somebody that’s interested in Jehovah’s Kingdom. Come on….this next house looks interesting.” He headed towards a larger house and I followed.
The gate was slumped against the fence, broken, the hinges rusted through. The pathway was cracked and overgrown and I ducked below branches as my Dad held them aside for me. At least it was cooler in the shade. The house’s porch was weathered and heavy with spiders webs and old
newspapers. I reached for the bell. A deep booming bark loomed in the hallway as a dog rushed to the door. Then muffled shouts as the owner laboured from the back of the house. The sound of a bolt sliding and the swollen door edging open. The dog lunged at the widening space, the man grabbed it’s collar and strained to hold it back. I hated it when they had dogs.
I shrunk back as far as I could into the small space of the porch, the dog now barking into my face. I stared into it’s open mouth watching it’s pink tongue bounce around, heavy with drool which was spraying seriously close to me. The man was large his wide belly barely covered by a cotton vest, his breathing was heavy and uneven. He looked at us with confusion and then suspicion as he wondered why strangers were standing in his porch. What could be so important?
“Good morning. I hope we’re not disturbing you? Is now a good time to talk?” my Dad leaned in closer to the door to speak.
The dog continued to barrel out loud barks. It was impossible to hear my Dad above the noise.
“Sorry!? I can’t hear you. Is now what?” asked the man, now agitated at holding the dog whilst trying to work out what we wanted.
My dad lent closer still and tried to shout above the dog.
“We were just hoping to chat with you about God’s promise for this world.”
“What? God’s promise? You bloody got me out the garden for this….!!” the door slammed. I felt instant relief that there was now a door between me and the dog.
We turned to walk away, the dog still howling and me tightly clutching the copy of The Watchtower in my hand. The majority of visits ended this way; anticipation follwed by disappointment; slammed doors and irate home owners.
Still, this was a golden age for me, I was too young to know any other way of life and I wasn’t yet constantly petrified of a school friend opening a door we knocked on. That would come later. For now all I had to worry about was making sure I didn’t get destroyed in a hail of fire and brimstone. After all that’s what was awaiting the old man who had just slammed the door shut on us. Carefree times indeed!