ICP #179 | On social distancing with dogs

The best part of my day is walking the dog. Alice, a border collie. Sometimes it gets to after five and she worries that we won’t take her, but we always do. Sometimes me and Mum go together. Sometimes just me.

We have a park near us. It’s big and has wild ponies and non-wild cows. Someone told me Henry VIII used to hunt deer there, which doesn’t sound true but gives you an idea of the scale.

Alice isn’t bothered about the large animals, but she’ll run after a squirrel like she’s still a puppy. If anything moves in the undergrowth she stops, ears up.

I don’t think she knows she’s lucky to have a park like this. A park that is protected from development, despite its suburban location. I think she takes it a little for granted. The lakes, the woodland, the heather to run through, the bog to bring home on her paws.

She’d poo on tarmac if she had to, but grass is preferable. Wildflowers even better. She circles a couple of times on a nice spot to make sure she is positioned just right.

Lots of people are walking in the park at the moment. With and without dogs.

The rules on gathering have been muddy at best and young people loiter in groups by the lake. The weed they’re smoking only slightly less forbidden than the fact of their presence.

Mostly the paths are wide enough that there isn’t too much distancing dance to be done. But occasionally you’ll meet someone at a little bridge or as the path narrows and one of you will have to stand aside for the other.

I’ve acclimatised to this now. I started by thinking of it as an antisocial fear, an enforced crossing of the road, avoiding eye contact. But it’s taken on a new sheen now; a sort of quaint, English politeness. An endless courtesy of no you, no please, no I insist.

I meet an old man at a snicket.
I stand aside.
Will we ever get used to all this distance? he says.

No, I say, I know.

Alice starts walking over to him. Can I stroke her? he says.
Yes, I say, Course. Before realising I probably shouldn’t have let him. And as he bends down I think, Fuck. Stop getting your microbes all over my dog.

Lovely dog, he says, Girl or boy?

Girl, I say, Alice.
How old?

We fall into silence and Alice wanders away, finds a nice patch of forget-me-nots, circles, crouches, quivers. That grotesque curvature of the spine. I scramble in my pocket for the small bag I hope I remembered. I wait for my part of this duty.

The man waits too, stands still, watches. Alice flashes me a concerned glare. Onlooker. But the man doesn’t move.

Eventually I say, You don’t like being watched pooing, do you Alice?

Yet the man remains.
The man does not avert his gaze.
The man has the temerity to say, No. Who does?

And the three of us stand there. Triangulated. Distanced.

An impasse.



A version of this post was sent by email on the 31st May 2020 as part of Internet Care Package – a weekly memoir project in the form of a newsletter. It also includes links to the best things I’ve found on the internet each week and occasional updates on my theatremaking. This blog is a select archive of those emails. Subscribe to get them right in your inbox.

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