A dog’s life

by Julie Alpine-Crabtree







I am not a dog person. If a cat is the friend who occasionally deigns to (badly) steer the buggy for her mate whose hands are full of pee-soaked pants and trousers,picnic lunch,jackets and shoes, a dog is the mutt who can’t shoot off to a private view at a gallery on the other side of London on a weekday afternoon and instead stands for half an hour in a rush-hour post office queue with a bored baby and playing-up three year old in tow, desperately trying not to catch anyone’s eye, all the while trying to conduct excessively stressful property negotiations. And look cute.

A cat wouldn’t even consider doing business with Foxtons.

So today’s outing to Hampstead Heath is intended to soothe jangled nerves, provide a green and calming, child-friendly oasis, break the spell of a week of bad news, ominous portents, of old adversaries coming out of the woodwork.

We sit down by the pond, hungry, in Nini’s case filthy. My baby, while I’ve been otherwise occupied, has learned to walk. Alerted by her guinea pig-esque squeaks, her legs kicking, finger pointing, I have today allowed her to roam muddy paths and winter lawns. Her cream snowsuit is black. Her face, hands, under her nails, caked in mud. I change her nappy as she lies, precarious, on the park bench. How long has she been roaming with a dirty nappy? Things are harder to monitor in the great outdoors. Strapping her back in for lunch, I search the many bags for a new packet of wet wipes. Milo wants some ham. Nini, hungry, impatient, strains against her five-point harness. The buggy tips, is caught by my feline-quick friend just before it’s too late. Only Mummy’s new leather tote ends up in the dirt. Milo wants a gingerbread man. Nini wants a slice of mango. Some ham. My phone beeps. Tummy rumbles.

Three dogs race by, scamper in circles around each other. One of them, quite big, the same tan as my leather tote, flashes by our bench. Milo wants some cheese. I am slow in assessing the situation, the last one to notice that the dog has got Nini’s dirty nappy in its mouth, its squishy, dirty, grape-rich contents flying. The dog runs, owner shouts, toddler laughs. A trail of poo-smeared wipes appears like breadcrumbs on the hill. The dog eats some of the nappy’s contents, then is off again, the other dogs hot in pursuit.

“I can’t look,” I say, several times, averting my eyes just as the dog bounds joyously towards a couple eating sandwiches, a man reading a book.

Half an hour later, when we leave, the dog has still got the nappy in its mouth. I still can’t look.

Other than “train your dog to obey commands”, the lesson I take home from today is that sometimes it’s okay to look the other way. Sometimes, it’s okay to focus on getting the kids fed and watered in order to finally get to one’s own Brazil nut baklava. Sometimes it’s just about keeping body and soul together. About refusing to accept responsibility for someone else’s dog.

I’ve got enough on my plate trying to keep my own puppies under control.