Dog grooming.


In order to unravel the complexities of my beginnings, my adoption and my subsequent upbringing, I acknowledge and understand, to some degree, the reasons why some situations evolved due to necessity;

Shortly after the move to the big house Sylvie had give birth to her last child, another daughter.

Now with a family of eight living in the house and at times various additional others staying, money was needed to feed and clothe us and maintain the upkeep of the home. Sylvie already did some childminding, mostly for Richard, the boy I had previously skipped along to nursery with, and his brother. She would look after them after school and in the school holidays but Richard was a very morose character and I don’t think he liked being at our house. It was too noisy, too much arguing, shouting and swearing and possibly too much female presence.

Sylvie’s second daughter Lily was now seventeen and having left school with no real qualifications she had worked a little in local pet shop but didn’t really like it. From somewhere, the idea of dog grooming emerged as a away of bringing in revenue and before long Lily had taken this up. I don’t know if she ever had any formal training but it was something she became extremely skillful at.

Unlike today when dog grooming salons and mobile services are numerous and easily available there were very few around at that time. Poodles were a popular breed and their owners liked to have them cut in the classic poodle style, shaved faces and feet, short bodies, fluffy rounded legs and top knots to their heads and the end of their short tails. Lily often clipped poodles for shows with the elaborate pom-poms cut in perfect globes to their legs and backs, a high afro type cut to the hair on their heads blending into a large main around their neck and chest.

Before long, the large back living room was converted into a dog grooming parlour. One half of the room, nearest the door, was treated as a kind of reception area with a high, curved counter with a phone and a booking diary, obviously put there to create a professional appearance. In the far corner was a table and a large industrial dog hair dryer and another table in the corner behind the door was used for the cutting and clipping of the dogs. Various equipment such as hair clippers, dog brushes and combs, scissors and dog nail clippers were all at hand and linoleum had been laid on the floor for ease of cleaning. There must have been some outlay for all the equipment, especially the specialist dog clippers and dryer, but as Sylvie would often remind us, “You have to speculate to accumulate.”

The dogs were bathed either in a large metal sink in the old stone kitchen or, if too big, in the bathroom upstairs and bought back to the room dripping wet, wrapped in towels. The large industrial machine used to dry dogs at that time was like a big hairdryer on a stand and belted out fast blowing hot hair. It was necessary to point the nozzle at the appropriate part of the dogs and use the metal toothed dog brushes or combs as the hair dried, teasing it out to unravel any knots or matted hair along the way.

This process could take anything from twenty to thirty minutes for a little Poodle or a Yorkshire Terrier to hours for bigger dogs or ones in bad conditions, their hair thick and matted. Some would have fleas and would need ‘de-fleaing’ as you went along, some would have weeping sores under their matted coats. It could be arduous work in hot conditions, stood on your feet for many hours a day.

Hands would suffer dreadfully. Wet from bathing the dogs and then being caught by the heat of the dryer as you brushed the dogs caused then to become dry, cracked and sore. The metal teeth of the brushes would cause scratches and scrapes if you happened to catch yourself when maneuvering dogs’ hair, legs, ears and such to get the brush or comb into all their crevices. There were frequent bites from the dogs, understandably at times, as they were pulled and pushed about and suffered the intense grooming and the heat of the dryer.

The business was building and becoming busier and busier, bringing in valuable income. Lily would struggle to cope with days when ten or twelve dogs would be booked in and from about the age of seven or eight I was being made to help.

At first, this would be on Saturdays and in the school holidays but gradually it extended more and more. Sometimes after a returning from school I would be ordered into the ‘dog room’, sometimes just to help hold a dog, other times to bathe and or dry them.

On a Saturday it wasn’t unusual for me, Sylvie’s third daughter Bridget, now aged around thirteen, and Lily to all be working away in a relay all day. One bathing the dogs, the next one drying them and Lily cutting and crimping away.

Eventually, I would often be kept away from school for the slightest excuse, usually for the slightest misdemeanor at home, in order to help with grooming the dogs. I would dread the words “You needn’t think your prancing off to school, you can get your lazy arse in there and make up for what you’ve f*****g well done!”

It would always be in regard to something trivial and at times nothing at all, but conveniently, it would always be on the days when the dog grooming diary pages were full of bookings.


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