A VERY BRITISH CRIME
I did my bit yesterday, and ruined a criminal’s day. No, please! Anyone would have done the same.
The crime I foiled was one covered by the 1996 Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act, by which it is a criminal offence if ‘a dog defecates at any time on designated land and the person who is in charge of the dog fails to remove the faeces from the land forthwith’.
There is so much to enjoy in that sentence, not least the pleasing alliteration of the words ‘fouling’, ‘faeces’ and ‘forthwith’, and there is also much reason to commend the law makers who gave the act life. Those were obviously the glory days of post-war legislation.
I was in a car at the time, moving very slowly, and the ‘person in charge of the dog’ was walking alongside me on the pavement right outside my friend’s house in Easebourne, as it happens. Suddenly, the dog stopped, an immobile example of Newton’s First Law that describes, maybe unfortunately, forces that apply to objects and the state of their motion.
Now there are some things that a dog can do furtively, but I would respectfully venture that the activity covered by the 1996 act is not one of them. Evolution cruelly lent the canine form a corresponding physical attitude that is both unique to the moment and extremely obvious to the bystander. The owner just stood there, looking at the traffic and pretending for all the world that his Staffie was having a short rest, rather than extruding its breakfast waste.
The traffic jam continued, so I stayed where I was and watched the unfolding drama. The dog owner went into the next bit of Vaudeville, which was to energetically pat all his pockets with the air of a man who is keen to magic out a bag that he knows is not there, and then to look at the Staffie in a way calculated to reassure it that the situation was well under control. He even grimaced at me through the car window as if to grimace was simultaneously to prove innocence.
The traffic inched forward, and so did I. So, too, did the dog owner, assuming, wrongly, that the problem had passed. A few yards later, like a game of Grandmothers’ Footsteps, the traffic stopped again and so did I. He was alongside my nearside window and made the mistake of looking in, just as I was looking in the rear view mirror at the Turner Prize entry a small distance behind.
At this point, he gave up the pretence of having a bag in his possession, and rather crossly picked up a couple of large horse chestnut leaves from the side of the pavement. We’ve all done it, at least we have if we own dogs. It’s kind of what chestnut leaves were designed for. He trudged back to the scene of crime and made a very public song and dance of collecting the evidence. By this time, a delighted audience of lunch-time drivers were sharing in his embarrassment, and there was nothing for it but to stride up the pavement with the loaded leaf in his right hand.
As he drew level with my car, he looked in to the window as if to say: ‘OK. Satisfied now?’ But a lofty moral position does not sit easily in a man that everyone knows is carrying that particular cargo, and it had the same air of theatrical optimism that the Prime Minister sometimes has coming back from one of her trips to Brussels.
On it went, and there we stayed, grateful for the gravel lorry stuck in the middle of the A272, and trying to get his engine going. The driver of the car in front, who had clearly been watching the proceedings, gave a cheerful double honk of the horn as he walked past; the one two ahead of that shouted some appreciative words from his wound-down window.
‘Nice one, mate!’ We heard him say.
Eventually, we saw him turn into Vanzell Road, and we all knew what he was going to do. Equally, we all appreciated that tiny three minutes of delight he had afforded us, and reflected that our day had been subtly improved by it.
And, when all was said and done, we had collectively prevented him contravening the 1996 D (F of L) Act, as we pedants call it.