Magazine article The Spectator

Picking Up

Magazine article The Spectator

Picking Up

Article excerpt

The epidemic which struck the village last week is nothing like as severe as the contagion that made Eyam -- just four miles away -- famous in 1665. But it has caused great distress to a proud people.

At Eyam, the plague -- exported, like so many undesirable intrusions into country life, from London -- was contained by heroic self-discipline. Under the inspired leadership of the Reverend William Mompesson, the parish cut itself off from the outside world and died, one by one, rather than spread the infection -- certain that sacrifice would bring salvation. Our disease can simply be remedied by dogowners 'picking up' after the purpose of their short walks through the village has been achieved. Until last autumn there was no problem. Now it is so serious that it features in the parish magazine.

The implied threat of severe sanctions has done nothing to deter the offenders.

Only this morning evidence of their irresponsibility was to be found in Church Lane, Station Road and the passageway that leads, by the side of the White Lion, up to the playing fields. Its presence causes a particular dilemma for public-spirited dog-owners. It is a strange fact but the relationship between animal and man makes it easy enough to pick up after a close furry friend has made the remedial action necessary, but performing the same service to rectify the results of another dog's ablutions is an act too unpleasant to contemplate. Yet, to walk on in furtive embarassment is to risk the next pedestrian suspecting that you, or, to be more precise, your dog, is to blame for the offence.

Faced with that dilemma on Moor Road yesterday, I wondered how I would react if a member of the Parish Council's ordure inspectorate accused Buster of a misdemeanour that he had not committed. After 12 years of four walks most days, I can distinguish between his and other dogs' excreta at a glance. But an argument about defining characteristics would be demeaning as well as distasteful. A DNA test would be conclusive but expensive. I would have to rely on circumstantial evidence of my innocence -- the picking-up equipment which I carry wherever I go. It has caused me much trouble in the past. After I took the wrong coat from the directors' room at a football match, the rightful owner complained to the club that an examination of the coat I left behind revealed that he had been robbed by a pervert who carried black plastic bags in his pocket.

I decided that -- like all wrongly accused heroes in the best detective stories -- I would prove my innocence by finding the real culprits myself. …

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