Thursday, 21 January 2010

Jack Straw, Cats on Ice and the Silence of Dogs

The dog next door is a very likeable Cocker Spaniel but has taken method acting lessons from a pit-bull and managed from behind the security of a fence to give the impression of a savage animal about to rip your throat out. She is a rescue dog and has always had the fixation that anyone approaching the property, including mine, is someone to be warded off by fierce barking and demonstrations of ferocious body hurling. It throws itself regularly at the fence that separates me from my lovely dog-owning neighbour and now the fence has finally given up the fight and fallen down.

The dog is perplexed because she is essentially a real softie and melts into acquiescence once she sees the person who has made the offending approaching footsteps; now she can see who is approaching and doesn’t know whether to bark and hurl or wag and greet. I have never understood the term ‘his bark is worse than his bite’ because quite frankly a bite is always worse than a bark, one breaks the skin the other just breaks the silence.

The two local cats who seem to have decided my garden is their habitat of choice, have no problem with this dog. Cats understand pretence as they deploy it all the time. During the recent cold weather I watched from my window as one of these cats slipped over on the ice and skidded a few feet on its bum. The cat immediately regained its composure and got to its four feet in such a graceful manner and with such aplomb that he conjured up the idea that this was what he intended to do all the time. I once had a three-legged cat who fell over a great deal. She usually managed well but now and then it was as if the rumour of the fourth leg fooled her into trusting to its existence. She would right herself after such a fall and stare around as if checking that no-one had seen her. I have done the same myself when I have fallen over.

The worse thing about falling is the embarrassment at having done so. During the recent snow and ice I walked as carefully as the three legged cat, the memory of my laughing as a child at my mother walking carefully in the ice poking me in the back. Falling not only means you might break something but that you can be seen as silly. Of course we all would rush to help someone who has fallen over but there must be some sort of equation involving age of faller, slipperiness factor of the ice, outcome of no real serious injury that equates to the level of silliness one feels at falling over. A high perceived silliness quotient of say ten could be achieved by someone of 28, slipping in only mildly slippery conditions and sustaining no injury whatsoever. I of course being in my fifties and with a high track record of breaking bones would, in the recent extremely icy conditions, have a very low perceived silliness quotient, this is a comfort even if it is nonsense and we cling to such things when we start to fear falling more than we are embarrassed by it.

To get back to the local cats and the dog; I have no doubt that they wander past under this dog’s nose when there is no one there to see. Frenzied enmity requires far too much energy and showmanship; all that yowling, back-arching, spitting and throat-raking barking is purely for audience consumption I sometimes think. The dog when I came out of the house this morning stared at me through the hole where the high fence used to be. I could see the dilemma in her eyes, bark or wag, bark or wag or both. What she did do, was ignore me, pretend she hadn’t seen me at all and then the dilemma just disappeared for her. Animals intuitively know how to handle angst, if possible they ignore situations that might lead to it. This has to be applauded in some ways.

I have just watched Jack Straw on the news give evidence to the enquiry on Iraq, I was again watching the behaviour of the dog next door, bark or wag and when pushed to respond to the questions asked, pretend that they don’t exist for him, maybe for others, but not for him. Good men do bad things, good men don’t ever like to think that they do bad things, good men have to have a good reason for doing bad things, good men need justification for doing bad things to be indisputable, good men will dispute in such a way as to make them feel that their justification is indisputable. I am not in the camp that believes that all politicians are bad men. I believe many are or would hope to be good, this is the reason why the morality of governance is so complex. Politics is not about telling huge lies to the public I think the thing that really fuels politics is how well and how willingly the politicians can tell lies to themselves in order to achieve an end.

‘I know more than I say. I say more than I know’, was the motto of all politicians, an elderly shrewd trade unionist friend of mine used to say. Mind you it might be a good motto for my family crest along with crossed pints of Guinness and a mongrel rampant or perhaps it should be a cat on ice

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