Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I've just spent a day looking after our one-year-old vizsla and, to be blunt, I have some sympathy with Michael Heseltine's decision to strangle his mother's alsatian. Not that my wife is out of town. Rather, I've just got a new job as director of the New Schools Network, a charity that helps groups set up free schools, and Caroline argued that because I'll now be spending so much time away from home I am morally obliged to take on the lion's share of dog duties before I start.

My responsibilities began with a walk in Gunnersbury Park. Now, to be fair, this isn't a monumental chore. Gunnersbury Park is one of Acton's hidden gems. Indeed, it's so glorious that the people who live within a thousand-yard radius of it deny that they live in Acton and claim to be proud residents of 'Gunnersbury'. Of course, no such place exists outside the imagination of estate agents, but if I lived nearby I'd make the same boast. It's a good size for a dog walk -- about 200 acres. A brisk stride around the perimeter takes approximately an hour.

In other ways, though, it's less than ideal. It contains 17 listed buildings, all in varying states of disrepair, and until last year the whole Gunnersbury estate had been largely neglected since it was sold to two neighbouring local councils by the Rothschild family in 1926. That ownership split meant neither side took responsibility for its upkeep. But last December a joint, £40 million restoration project was unveiled by the leaders of Hounslow and Ealing councils, and since then the park has been a hive of activity. Great news for local residents, but not so good for us dog owners since it's now a giant building site, with plenty of opportunities for mischief.

For instance, there's a fenced-off area containing a stagnant muddy pool and preventing Leo from squeezing through a gap in the fence and immersing himself in this disgusting primordial soup is next to impossible. It doesn't help that the local dog walkers -- the professionals, who walk half a dozen dogs at once -- actually encourage their charges to jump in the pool, presumably because they don't have to give them a bath afterwards to get rid of the foul stench. That job falls to the owners who have been foolish enough to hire them. …

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