Essays: Beware of the dogs |
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Beware of the dogs

DOGSHIT! The very name is like a bell, to toll me back from thee to my sole self.

In a commentary admirably willing to call a load of crap a load of crap, the gooey substance was several times alluded to by this disyllabic epithet during The Case Against Dogs (Thames), an uninspired but in my view unanswerable assault on the British public’s insane fancy for the pooch. Dogshit. Why doesn’t everybody call it that? What’s in a name? A turd by any other name would smell as rank.

Unfortunately most of the relevant officials interviewed on the subject, both here and in Louisiana (where control of the canine pest is taken with exemplary seriousness), were mealy in the mouth, however hot they might be on the trail. On both sides of the Atlantic dogs were referred to as defecating rather than shitting. Camden Council employs a lone inspector to walk the pavement on the lookout for citizens allowing their dogs to foul it. In a sane society he would command a department called Shitwatch and wield the powers of Richelieu. As things are, he pounds the beat in solitary impotence, a dog-dogging Dogberry, with a jokey notebook and a Hugh Scanlon vocabulary heavily adorned with admonitory phrases like ‘inasmuch as’, ‘with a view to’, and ‘wherefore so deposit’.

Camden’s share of London’s million dog-owners answer this good man back with the insolence customary among those who treat animals like people and people like animals. In the unlikely event of his making the charge stick (the dog practically has to poo on his shoe before he can make the pinch) he can hope to see the offending owner stung for twenty quid at most. A worthy type, but valueless as an instrument of terror. If the law gave him the option to retaliate by entering the malefactor’s house and taking a swift crap in the parlour it would be a different matter. People would then be more apt to think twice before encouraging their beloved pet to drop its guts.

There was some pathetic footage of the only two purpose-built dog-lavatories in London. Needless to say, these constituted the few remaining square yards of open space in the entire city which were not thoroughly impregnated with cloacal slime. Dogshit, it seems, contains indestructible worm larvae which transmit themselves to one in twenty children who play in parks. The larvae cause disease in a significant number of cases, and in a significant number of those cases the disease expresses itself as damage to the eyesight. Eyeballs have been cut out of children because dogs have been allowed to dump their lunch on the grass. It’s my experience that most dog-owners would regard this as an acceptable risk: they are usually experts at ascribing to the will of nature the havoc wreaked by their jealously cherished vermin.

Near my house in Cambridge is one of the most pleasant stretches of public ground in Britain — Jesus Green. Neither an enamelled display case for a cocktail-bibbing undergraduate élite nor an exclusive arbour for port-sodden dons, it is a genuine gathering-place for the whole community. It is also a parade ground for the kind of strutting clown who wants to let his Doberman Pinscher out to play, while strenuously assuring you that there is no need for your child to be scared to death: Helmut would never dream of biting anyone. (Helmut never does, up until the moment when he inexplicably decides to chew a baby’s face off.) But wait! Suddenly the giant hound pauses in its headlong flight, spreads its back legs and voids a rancid coil! Another pint of worms for the communal sewer. How much more shit can Britain take before it buckles under the strain and goes down like Atlantis?

The World in Action (Granada) trilogy on the CIA came to an end. Not much of it was news for those of us who have tried to keep reasonably informed about the capacity of US foreign policy to defeat its own long-term ends, but there are still some surprisingly intelligent people who need to be convinced, and now’s the time. With the CIA currently being investigated by the democratically elected officials and openly appointed agencies of the Republic, there has never been a better opportunity to reiterate the abiding truth that the first interest of clandestine power is to preserve itself.

In Britain, as in other countries, there are self-proclaimed Friends of America who regard any criticism of US foreign policy as an objective endorsement of Communism, just as The Soviet Union used to regard any deviation from the party line as an objective endorsement of capitalism. But the fact is at last becoming clear to everyone that US foreign policy has nowhere failed more spectacularly than in those areas where it has supposedly been successful — notably in Latin America, where conniving at the installation of right-wing regimes has ensured that a popular revolt will one day come, and where conniving at the elimination of independent left-wing forces has ensured that when the popular revolt comes it will be led by the Communists.

In the continuously fascinating Tribal Eye (BBC2), David Attenborough was last week billed to appear without his clothes on, in order to penetrate some secret rite. Since a smile from Attenborough once did to my wife roughly what a glance from Valentino did to Agnes Ayres, I was ill-prepared to take this revelation calmly, but as things transpired the whole atmosphere of the programme was stiff with ethnic reverence, and all that could be heard from any spouse when the skin-flick sequence rolled was a low murmur of detached interest — the only reason she licked her lips was because I had put too much lemon peel in her Cinzano. Post-Christian religions are now emerging in the South Pacific. Compared to the pre-Christian ones they are sad lash-ups. Remarkable here, as in most other parts of the world this fine series has so far visited, is the uncanny success of the Christian missionaries in convincing otherwise sceptical natives of the necessity for trousers.

In Panorama (BBC1) Christopher Booker and Bennie Gray did a vividly analytical job of explaining how Wandsworth Council might end up paying £450,000 to build one room. Edward the Seventh (ATV) croaked. So did Florence in The Poisoning of Charles Bravo (BBC2): the booze got her. The Wimbledon situation (BBCs 1 and 2 recurring) ground to an end situation.

The Observer, 6th July 1975

[ An excerpt from this piece can be found in Visions Before Midnight ]