“Excuse me, sir. I’m afraid dogs are not allowed in the park without a lead.” The Park Keeper pointed to the sign.
“Ah, yes! I see that, but you see, the thing is …”
“The thing is, sir, your dog is fouling on my grass. There’s a penalty for that.” The Park Keeper pointed to the relevant notice. “Unless, of course, you use a pooper-scooper and dispose of the offending mess appropriately, sir.”
“Ah, yes! I see that too, but you see, the thing is …”
He reached into the pouch he wore across his body. “The thing is, sir, I have some plastic bags here for just such an occasion.” And he handed one over.
“Ah, yes! I see. Plastic bag. Yes.” Hugh looked at the bag as though it was from outer space. “And what exactly?” He made a vague waving gesture with it.
“Never done this before, have we, sir.”
“No, actually. No, haven’t. Haven’t needed to really.”
“Ah! New to this area, are we?”
Hugh nodded, looking at the dog as it crouched on the grass adding to its offence.
“Thought so. Standards, sir. It’s all about standards, if you don’t mind my saying so, sir. We like to keep our park up to a high standard. Litter, dogs’ mess, ball-games – these are the things that bring a park down, you know.”
“Quite, yes. Yes. I can imagine.” Hugh wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Thing is, don’t you know.” He still held the plastic bag at arm’s length. A look of puzzlement crossed his face when he looked at it.
“If I may, sir?” The Park Keeper took the bag from his grasp and walked across the grass to the offending pile. “Allow me to demonstrate the use of the plastic bag as a pooper-scooper.” And this he ably did. “One places one’s hand inside the bag, thus.” He demonstrated. “Pick up the poop, thus.” He did. “Turn the bag inside out, thus.” Again, accomplished expertly. “Thereby containing the mess within the bag, to be disposed of in the receptacle provided.” He indicated the bin at the end of the path.
“I say, well done.” Hugh applauded. “Donald, is it?” He gave a nod to the name badge on the Park Keeper’s jacket.
“Thank you, sir.” Donald beamed. When Hugh made no move to relieve the Park Keeper of the plastic bag of pooh, he walked across to the bin and demonstrated how it should be deposited. “Thus.”
Hugh nodded his understanding. “Yes. Yes. Quite. Now, the thing is, you see.”
“And now, sir. May I suggest you collect your dog and put it on its leash before any further mishap occurs?”
“Good idea. Yes. The thing is though …” Hugh raised his hands, displaying the lack of a dog leash.
“Ah, I see your problem now.” The Park Keeper clicked his fingers together. He reached into his pouch once more. “Fortunately, I carry this length of rope for just such an occasion.” He handed it to Hugh.
“Rope. Yes. I imagine you …” He held the rope out and wiggled it about a bit as though putting it through the dog’s collar.
“Exactly, sir. Now, if you’d care to call the dog.”
“Yes. Yes. See what you mean. Call the dog. Rover, don’t you know. Always called my dogs Rover. Ever since I was a boy. Got a puppy for my birthday.” Hugh smiled at the memory of waking to the warm, wet nose snuffling round his face. He’d wanted a dog so much, hadn’t dared to hope his mother would let him have one of his very own. He’d called him Rover, unable to think of a more original name. Continued to call it Rover even after realising, or, rather, being told, he was a she. “Old-fashioned now, I suppose. The name, I mean. Rover. Still, Mumsie has kept up the tradition, don’t you know.”
Hugh drew himself back from his thoughts and shook his head. “No matter. You see, the thing is …”
“If you’d care to call the dog, sir?”
Hugh could see Donald was getting edgy.
“This particular dog has been, ahem, irritating me, shall we say, on and off for days now. Never on a leash, trotting about as if it owns the park, cocking its leg where it will, digging in the flower beds.”
Hugh affected a look of understanding and sympathy.
“I’ve been watching out for you, sir, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to make clear the park rules concerning animals. “If you wouldn’t mind, sir?”
The dog was perilously close to a beautiful display of roses. In fact he was beginning to dig around them.
Hugh looked doubtful, but reluctantly co-operated with the request. “Rover! Erm, Rover!” he called self-consciously and ineffectually.
The Park Keeper smiled his encouragement.
Hugh tried again. “I say Rover, old boy, do come over here.” He tapped the rope against his leg.
The dog, a large black Labrador, disdained to come over anywhere, but began digging in earnest, putting the roses in serious jeopardy.
Hugh pursed his lips and attempted to whistle, not something he was ever good at, but something he always believed he would someday be able to do. He felt it was a requirement of a dog owner and had sought to perfect the technique since being given that first puppy, also a black lab as it happened.
The sound that came from his lips was thin and frail and the dog could be excused for ignoring it.
Hugh called again. The dog dug on. The roses toppled in the dirt.
“Not well trained,” Donald remarked through gritted teeth. “If you don’t mind my saying so, sir,” he said.
“No. No.” Hugh was eager to reassure the Park Keeper. “I don’t mind at all. Completely in agreement on that point. Has a will of his own, don’t you know.”
“Do you mind if I try?” The Park Keeper indicated his willingness to round up the dog.
“Not at all,” Hugh said earnestly. “Be my guest.” And he handed over the coiled rope.
“May I suggest, sir, you go round that way?” Donald indicted one side of the shrubbery. “While I advance from this direction. That way we can perhaps cut off his escape.”
“By all means,” Hugh acquiesced.
Labrador Retrievers are not by nature difficult dogs and Rover proved true to his breed, allowing himself to be rounded up and captured without much protest.
“Firmness, you see, sir,” Donald said with due pride. “They respond to firmness. Firmness of voice. You have to let them know who’s in charge.”
“Yes, absolutely. Yes. I see that. Thank you. Well done. Most Impressive.” Hugh knew it was true. Mumsie had often tried to goad him into being his dog’s master rather than its playmate. The role had never suited him and none of the dogs he’d owned over the years had been fooled by any attempts on his part to play it.
The Park Keeper dusted down his jacket and stood tall. “And now, sir, if you’d be so good as to remove the animal from the vicinity.” He handed the rope over to Hugh. “I’ll tidy up round the roses.”
“Yes. Yes. The thing is, you see …” his voice trailed off when he realised the Park Keeper was no longer listening. Obviously, as far as he was concerned, the matter was now satisfactorily concluded.
“I’ll fetch a rake,” he said.
“Yes, yes, of course. By all means,” Hugh agreed.
When Donald returned, he seemed surprised to find Hugh still there.
Hugh was sitting on a bench and the dog was far off, digging again at the same spot, the roses torn and scattered between its paws.
The Park Keeper drew a long breath between gritted teeth and bore down on Hugh. “Ahem!” He coughed. “Excuse me again, sir.”
“Oh, hello!” Hugh smiled. “Waiting,” he explained. “Waiting for my wife.” He looked at his watch. “Late.” He pulled a tolerant face.
“The dog, sir?”
“Yes, yes. Still here, isn’t he.”
“I did mention before, sir, the necessity of a leash?”
“Yes. Yes. Absolutely! You see, the thing is.” Hugh raised his hand, still clutching the rope.
The Park Keeper’s eyes followed the length of the rope as it snaked across the grass all the way to the dog’s collar. “Ah, yes. I see. Not quite the spirit of the injunction, may I say, sir?”
“Well, I must say,” Hugh said as he stood up. “It’s been very nice speaking with you, quite, you know, quite, well, quite educational, in fact.” He waved to Yvonne. “Bit of a lesson in dog-handling, don’t you know. But now, I see my wife coming. So, if you don’t mind.” He handed the rope to the Park Keeper. “You see, the thing is, at this point in time, I don’t actually have a dog.”