Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

If you want a friend in Washington, the saying goes, get a dog. In summer I devote most of my un-air-conditioned hours to Daisy, who is a Portuguese water dog. We take long walks along Rock Creek, which runs through the big national park that bisects the city. No cars, no leash, no plastic baggies. For me it is the Just-William-and-Jumble childhood I never had. For Daisy it is a joyous hour of swimming, chasing deer, scaring horseriders and consuming plum-sized balls of horseshit, after which she is ready to walk home and fall asleep on top of the air-conditioning vent.

Portuguese water dogs became a chic breed once the Kennedys began acquiring them. But when P resident Obama decided to get one for his daughters, it became impossible to walk mine without getting stopped by gawkers. For politics obsessed Washingtonians, a car is never just a car (there are 'conservative' SUVs and 'liberal' Priuses), a sport is never just a sport (there is 'conservative' football and 'liberal' baseball) and the same goes for dogs. The woods are usually a refuge from this way of thinking, but the other day we bumped into the wife of a conservative journalist who has appeared often in these pages. She was walking with an editor friend of hers.

'Is that a Portuguese water dog?'

she said. 'Watch your back around your conservative friends.' 'He's a conservative?' said her friend. 'He's like ---, ' she said, mentioning her husband's name and casting a glance at Daisy. 'He just pretends to be conservative.'

What did they expect? A Rottweiler?

It has been 100 degrees in Washington, DC, for the last few days. Driving back through Delaware after a weekend at the beach, we passed a crew of men doing road work in the rippling heat. There were a dozen of them, in peacock-blue jumpsuits, with an official-looking car rolling 20 yards behind them at walking speed. This was what used to be called a chain gang, except that the inmates weren't in chains. It made me wonder what Solzhenitsyn would have thought.

A couple of years ago I got wrapped up in the unabridged edition of The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn's indictment of communism is that makes the gulag inevitable. The gulag is communism's natural outcome. People are in labour camps not because criminals require punishment but because the government requires labour. …

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