Basil the Bow Wow does not exist.
That is the alarming, childhood-undermining discovery of late. Basil the Bow Wow, a cornerstone of my childhood, does not appear anywhere on the internet. Type in his name, in inverted commas, into Google and a total of zero hits are found (I guess the writing of this entry might change that to a single solitary hit). Zero internet hits = non-existence.
In fairness, up until a few weeks ago, Basil the Bow Wow had slipped down the sides of my memory too. It was during a visit up north, to see my mother in her lovely new home in the countryside, and in evening discussion with my brother that the name was brought up. I took a few seconds before the memories came flooding back.
Basil the Bow Wow was a toy sit-on dog-on-wheels, with a voicebox. A St. Bernards, though in a size suitable for children whose years on earth were in single digits, he could be pushed around by the frame at the rear, or sat on and propelled by eager child feet. Or more likely, in our family, my sister would be made to sit on him while my brother grabbed the frame and careered my distressed sister around at high speed until she inevitably smacked against a wall and cried. But let’s not blame that on Basil the Bow Wow.
Although a mini-St Bernard’s on wheels would have been enough for a successful childhood toy, it was Basil the Bow Wow’s voicebox that elevated him into cult status in our family. Basil the Bow Wow had a string by his neck, which when pulled would allow him to say one of a random selection of friendly quotes. As my brother and I sat around, chuckling at the memory of Basil the Bow Wow’s chummy, lovable, and desperately eager voice, we tried to recall all the quotes he’d come up with. This involved a phonecall to our sister, who added an especially good one.
Pull Basil the Bow Wow’s string, and he would say:
“Hi, my name’s Basil the Bow Wow. What’s your name?”
“Hi, my name’s Basil the Bow Wow. Will you be my friend?”
“Hi, my name’s Basil the Bow Wow. I love children!”
“Hi, my name’s Basil the Bow Wow. Will you play with me?”
and as my sister recalled:
“Hi, my name’s Basil the Bow Wow. AWOOOOOO!!!”
Of course, these days it’s illegal to say such things to children, but in the hazy nostalgia of my youth it was a more innocent world. Basil the Bow Wow would be pushed around the house, his string pulled, and his friendly and enthusiastic words would pour out.
Quite how it happened I don’t know, but it was Basil the Bow Wow’s decline that gave us the biggest laugh that evening. I blame it on my brother, but I’m sure I must have had a hand. Because after much wear and tear, poor Basil the Bow Wow went downhill, and frankly a little senile.
His head, first of all, became limper and bent down at an angle. I can only imagine this was from repeated assaults from my brother, who as a young child was a considerable horror. Once with head held high, now Basil the Bow Wow looked broken down and unhealthy. The worse he looked, the more my brother bullied, blow after blow raining down on Basil the Bow Wow’s broken head. What a horrible child.
And then his voice went. This may have been natural decline, or it may have been heavily exacerbated by the discovery that if we held the string upon pulling it, we could manipulate Basil the Bow Wow’s voice. By holding the string back as it tried to pull back in, his voice became slow and warped, but by sudden release would often go fast and ridiculous. Such a discovery for children is pure gold, and we never grew tired of it (even today I would derive endless amusement), including my sister, gentle back in these days, who usually disliked the torture of our dog-like toy. Yes, even she would laugh at Basil the Bow Wow as his pained, warbled voice groaned out: ““Hhhhhhhiiiiiiii, my name’s Basil the Bow Wow. Aaaaaaaaaaa...... wwwwoooooo.....”
Such an assault on his voice, and the mechanism that powered it, eventually proved too much for Basil the Bow Wow to bear, and something snapped inside. He still had the power of speech, but now when his string was pulled, he would gasp out his random statement in ultra-rapid fire – one second and he’d said it. It was undoubted comedy – yet undoubted tragedy too. Basil the Bow Wow, with his broken head and broken voice, was dying. Now the only way to understand what he was trying to say was by the very means we’d broken him, by holding onto the string and letting it release slowly, thereby holding back the broken mechanism and preventing the fast release, with the result his statement would be delivered with a reluctant melancholy. Basil the Bow Wow was tired, he didn’t want to speak any more.
It was the end for him. Foul children we were, some other toy or game consumed us and he lay forgotten, and was eventually put into a cupboard and to the very back of our minds. Long after I’d grown up and left home, my sister retrieved him from his hidden spot in the cupboard. Basil the Bow Wow had grown mouldy, his voice didn’t work. He’d loved children, he’d wanted to play with us, and he’d wanted to be our friend – and without a second thought we put him out with the rubbish.
But much time has elapsed since then, and the reminiscence between myself and my brother was fond, as we laughed about all the happy times we’d had with Basil the Bow Wow. And so later, in discussion with my sister, we thought it would be a terrific idea to get hold of a replacement Basil the Bow Wow for my brother, who gets married early next year and will have his first child in around May (making me, incidentally, Uncle Nev. Yikes). Basil the Bow Wow, a commercial toy, might still be available, if not brand new in Argos or wherever, then at least on Ebay.
Which is why we are astonished that absolutely no trace of his existence appears on the internet. We’ve found various other toy sit-on dogs, though without voicebox, but none are Basil the Bow Wow, and his name does not register anywhere. This isn’t some obscure toy from the 1850s, this was a (surely mass-produced) toy from the 1980s. Even if he wasn’t available for sale, I’m surprised that nobody in the history of the internet has ever mentioned his name, or found him in their attic and tried to sell him for £10. Of the many toys that came and went during these halcyon young years, Basil the Bow Wow was once of the most memorable, along with our sledges, my computer chess and a giant cardboard box we spent a whole day playing in. But his memory appears to exist only with my direct family, the rest of the world, as well as discarding him, has fully forgotten he ever was.
So Basil the Bow Wow, to answer your questions after all this time: My name is Nev, yes I’ll be your friend, I love you too and I’ll be delighted to play with you - if only I could find you. And, of course, AWOOOOOO!!!