Someone asked about James Herriott, I would guess a lot of you beardie
people will have read of Yorkshire, its farmers and animal stories from his
books. I live in the countryside surrounded by the kind of places and
people he described. Which reminded me to tell you of Old Moss the sheepdog
and his owner, Hilton Firth. Hilton lived in a filthy cottage behind my
house, next door to his very house proud sister, Hilda.

One day having done a small favour to Hilda, she invited me to take tea with
her. But, she said regretfully, we would have to have it at Hilton’s house,
as she had to fix his meal as well. Hilton, by then in his eighties, was
sat in his chair by the fire, a chair so worn to his shape and lacking in
support he was almost on the floor. Old Moss was lurking in the background,
still a working dog, of no known breed, covered in thick brown hair and
lacking a foreleg from some long forgotten accident. Hilda spread a dainty
cloth on a table and invited me in, Hilton remaining by the fire. She made
tea and cut thin bread and butter, and laid two places at table. Then she
put a large pile of thick bread and butter on a tray, with a tin of corned
beef and a tin of dog food, a can opener and a knife. As we sat making
polite conversation, I watched Hilton as he slowly opened both tins. Taking
up the knife, he carved out some corned beef and spread it on a piece of
bread and ate it. The same knife then spread a thick layer of dog food on
more bread. Without looking, Hilton hurled the bread across the room, and
Moss’s head appeared up from behind a chair and caught it. Hilton carried on
alternately spreading beef and dog food, and Hilda and I carried on our
ladylike tea and conversation, with a bombard of smelly brown ‘dog’s
sandwiches’ hitting every corner of the room. I noticed then, that there
was a brown streak on the wallpaper around the room about four feet up,
testimony that this had been going on for years and that three legged Moss
was not infallible! I guess that this ‘elegant meal’ happened about 1983 or
84, Hilda and her brother were both dead by 1990, and the old cottages they
lived in have been renovated and turned in decent houses with heating and
double glazing and all modern amenities. I wondered what it was like, when
they came to peal off the wall paper!

Hilda was a herbalist, but very reluctant to talk about her cures, but her
cupboards were full of brown bags of rustling leaves. She must have had
eight or nine clocks in her front room, from grandfather clocks to carriage
clocks. Hilton had few redeeming features, a dirty old man with a habit of
trying to chase me round my own cow shed. Old Moss can still be seen, in
his descendents still living on farms in the valley. They were part of the
old Yorkshire way of life that has nearly vanished in the last twenty years.

Hope you don’t mind me sharing these memories with you.

Lee Gilbert
Old Moss.
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