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Man With Two Dogs: Milestone moment as Angus Whitson writes 1,000th column

Angus Whitson, aka Man With Two Dogs, with MacBeth and Inka.
Angus Whitson, aka Man With Two Dogs, with MacBeth and Inka.

Angus Whitson, aka Man With Two Dogs, has just written his 1,000th Courier column. Gayle Ritchie chats to him about the milestone moment.

He has delighted Courier readers with his whimsical musings on nature, wildlife and tales from the countryside for almost two decades.

And having just penned his 1,000th Man With Two Dogs column, Angus Whitson says he hopes to carry on writing it “as long as I can get out of bed in the morning!”

The column, which features in the paper every Saturday, is one of The Courier’s most popular, and Angus is much-loved by readers who frequently send him letters in the post.

Many of these – especially the more curious ones “about ganglions and cowpats”, offer fascinating material for his articles.

Angus, who describes himself as a “Montrosian born and bred”, says he “absolutely loves” writing his column.

“It’s ingrained into my weekly activities. If the editor rang me and said it was time for me to go, I should be devastated.”

Angus at home in Fettercairn.

While his columns don’t often include what Angus describes as “bolts from the blue”, there’s a great deal to love about his writing, which is beautifully descriptive, colourful and quite simply a joy to read. It’s perfect weekend reading material.

“What I say is I go out into the country and I look and I listen and I come home and write about what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard,” says Angus. “There are no bolts from the blue. It’s more a conversation between me and the readers about what I get up to with the two dogs. And when asked how easy it is to write an article to order every week, I really think it’s true to say that nature does it for me.”

His outdoors upbringing very much informs and influences the way Angus writes.

“Both parents had a great love of the countryside,” he says, “but father was a man of extremes. When we were out in the countryside it wasn’t proper fun, in his terms, unless you were soaking wet, frozen or covered in mud and preferably all three. So I suppose that background has influenced the way I look at the countryside and how I write about it”.

Angus writes up his weekly column.

Where it all began

So how, and indeed when, was Man With Two Dogs first conceived?

“It arose out of a conversation I had with Chris Hardy, a journalist for the Courier based in Montrose.,” says Angus.

“He asked what I was up to and it just so happened I had written a dozen or so Man With Two Dogs-type articles about going out with my dogs and what I saw and heard.

“Chris got back to me and said a very nice lady called Shona Lorimer, who was features editor at that time, was extremely interested in what I was doing and could I send her four of five of the articles.

“I did that and they were submitted to the directors who liked them. That was where it all started – in October 2002.

“A new editor, Bill Hutcheon, had just been appointed. Colin Gibson’s nature diary had been on the go for 42 years and he’d been dead six years.

“The paper was dipping into the archives and pulling out appropriate articles for the time of year.

“Bill said, ‘this can’t go on forever; we’ve got to do something different.’ I suppose I was in the right place at the right moment.

“They were looking for someone to replace Colin with something similar and that’s how it happened. I was very aware I was following in the footsteps of a much-loved contributor.”

Angus Whitson, aka Man With Two Dogs, with Macbeth and Inka.

First column

Angus’s first column appeared on January 4 2003, with the headline First Footing.

He and his wife Liz were living in a country cottage between Brechin and Edzell in an area surrounded by woodland and the column focused on the wildlife spotted in their garden.

“We had Macbeth at that time, a white West Highland Terrier,” he recalls.

“Macbeth was convinced that if he ran just a fraction faster he would bag one of the squirrels that came into the garden.

“He never stood a chance but it was thrilling to watch the squirrels bounding for the safety of tall beech trees, completely in their natural element among the bare high branches. They ran along thin whippy branches launching themselves into neighbouring trees until they were lost to view.”

Liz with Macbeth and Inka.

Along with Macbeth, Angus had Sheba, a 10-year-old black Labrador, a comforting mother figure.

“The name for the column has stuck well,” he says, “although people do get confused and call it Two Men and A Dog, or whatever!”

Over the course of the column’s life to date, Angus has seen the inevitable passing of some of his beloved dogs.

In fact he’s not had any since he lost both Macbeth and black Lab Inka, but changing the name of the column has never been a consideration. Plus, he’s planning to get a rescue dog soon, probably a West Highland Terrier.

“We might not have two dogs but we’d welcome one into our lives again,” he says.

“Each time a dog dies, we shed a tear. We lost Sheba, Macbeth, and two Inkas, both black Labs. But we always get another dog; we need one to get us out walking.”

Letters

Angus has had his fair share of fan mail over the years, and letters from readers keen to share their own musings.

There are a couple of particularly curious and funny ones that stick in his mind.

“A reader wrote to me once about her grandmother’s remedy for ailing children,” he enthuses.

“Her granny prescribed a spoonful of the clear serum found on a new-laid cowpat! The extraordinary thing about that is – it’s within living memory – it’s not from the Middle Ages. This is the days of the National Health Service.

“For all I know there are grannies running around all over the countryside with spoons looking for a cow about to relieve themselves! Did this remedy work? You hesitate to ask! It’s just an example of some of the interesting myths that come my way. I think I must have been writing about home remedies at the time.”

A reader wrote to me once about her grandmother’s remedy for ailing children. Her granny prescribed a spoonful of the clear serum found on a new-laid cowpat!”

ANGUS WHITSON

Another memorable letter was on the theme of ganglions, fluid-filled lumps which can occur near joints or tendons.

“It told the story of how if you walloped a ganglion with the family bible and it broke up and disappeared it was due to the intervention of the Good Book,” says Angus. “If it persisted you were such a vile sinner that not even the Good Book could save your miserable soul.”

But when someone addressed a letter to Angus as “Man With Two Dogs – lucky man, lucky dogs”, he was delighted: “I thought that summed up the spirit of the column.”

Angus also tells the tale of a lady his wife met in the local fish shop. “She said, ‘Mrs Whitson, I do enjoy reading your husband’s column. It’s the first thing I read on a Saturday… even before the deaths column!’”

The Doyenne

Readers will be well aware of his wife Liz, the Doyenne, who is often mentioned in his weekly musings and her recipes feature in his books.

“Before I send the column off, Liz reads it and makes any corrections she thinks are necessary,” he reveals.

“I think I’ve only defied her twice and not taken up her suggested changes and I have regretted it both times. She’s a pretty important part of the team. I come home with all sorts of stuff. I pick wild raspberries, gooseberries and all kinds of fruit. Liz’s wild raspberry jam is absolutely delicious. She and I very much work away together.”

Liz, aka The Doyenne, and Angus at home in Fettercairn.

Back in 2017, Angus and Liz joined forces to give Courier readers their opinion of the popular Bake Off series.

Together, they wrote a fun, light-hearted commentary of the contestants, the baking and the judges on the TV show. It was something they repeated again in 2018, but, says Angus, it proved rather stressful.

“The programme finished at 9.15pm and I had to have the text sent to The Courier by 10pm. It nearly killed me! I’m not a professional journalist but we always managed it,” he says.

Future

As to the future, Angus says he hopes the column will continue to delight and bring joy and insight to readers.

He laughs: “I’m in my 20th year with the column, so I think I’m doing something right!

“It’s really about having a conversation with the readers about what I get up to. I also write about things that older readers might remember from their childhood. It brings back their memories and they love that.

Inka, one of Angus’s beloved dogs, formed a large part of his column.

“Man With Two Dogs is non-controversial and non-political and it’s always been like that. Memories serve me well – my own as well as other people’s. But I also rely on people who have what I call a fund of utterly useless information. I thrive on the snippets they put my way and round which I can build a story.

“Over the years I’ve met so many people and done so many things that I’d never have been able to if I hadn’t been the Man With Two Dogs. I’m delighted to have passed the millennium mark and expect to carry on writing as long as I can.”

We certainly hope you do, Angus. For a very long time.

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