The last grave we visited on our tour of poets’ graves didn’t belong to a poet at all. After paying our respects to William McGonagall in Edinburgh, we went and took our pictures at the monument to Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who supposedly stood vigil at his master’s grave for over a decade.


The story is a bit of fanciful nonsense, of course, but when Edinburgh twinned with San Diego, San Diego proposed that the two cities trade statues of their legendary dogs. Edinburgh would send San Diego a statue of Greyfriars Bobby, and San Diego sent Edinburgh a bronze Bum statue.

Bum was a St Bernard who entered San Diego as a stowaway puppy on a paddle steamer in the 1890s. Homeless, he quickly became popular with the locals – restaurants would place signs in the window proudly proclaiming ‘Bum eats here’, Bum rode the trams, local dog catchers were given pictures of him and told he was off-limits. Eventually, he was awarded the keys to the city. He was a symbol of goodwill and humanity, and he seemed to make everyone who saw him a little happier.

I feel like this – completely true – story was much more uplifting than the Greyfriars Bobby urban legend, but far less well known, and so I was moved to write a poem. I hope to perform the piece in schools, passing on the story of this roguish, boisterous, fearless St Bernard and the hope he inspired.

Everybody needs a Bum
Yes, everybody needs a Bum
The King of Spain, the Welsh, your Mum,
A hairy, sweaty, smelly Bum

That was his name
When San Diegans shouted Bum
Then very soon Bum came
And when a tram car rattled past –
A dog! It’s Bum! Pressed to the glass
And all the butchers loved, for fun,
To sneak a sausage in their Bum

O Bum!
O Bum!
We cry his name
Whenever we’re downhearted
O Bum! Whenever life goes wrong
We call to the departed

So if your life is fraught with cares
That haunt you as you climb the stairs
Then friend, before you say your prayers
Bum the dog

O Bum the dog!
Yes, Bum the dog!
A proven stress reliever!
The big St Bernard’s wet brown eye
Will make you a believer
(if you can’t find a St Bernard
Then make do with a retriever)

He roamed the sidewalks, fancy free,
He slept in snow or dust
And friend, I fancy that I see
A little Bum in all of us
And when I mark, in men I meet,
That kindred spark of wanderlust
I see him in them, plain as day
My spirits rise, my voice grows gay
I gaze into their eyes and say:
I know you Bum the dog

You, Bum the dog!
You, Bum the dog!
I see it in your smile!
You know no home, you lusty fool,
You’ve traipsed the dusty mile
Now rest your weary tail, sweet hound,
And eat with me a while

And if the stranger turns to run
I call: Please – let me find your Bum!
Perhaps your Bum is just asleep
Some Bums are hidden very deep
There’s wonder in the darkest holes
I think our Bums might be our souls

Everybody needs a Bum
And everybody has one
Just treat your Bum with kindness –
You’ve a lifelong loyal companion
Though fate’s cruel winds may thrash you, please,
Protect your Bum, despite the cost,
For home may come and go, but he
Who cannot find his Bum is lost

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