I don’t have a dog. I really like people, humans. I also like JG Ballard, the novelist. I think of his work a lot at the moment. Unlimited asked me to share some thoughts I’m having right now. I write satire so I’m going to attempt to write some thoughts through that prism now.
These are some thoughts I had this morning whilst walking in an east London park with my essential, permitted household human companion.
Under lockdown in London and all over UK, non “key workers” like myself (I’m a writer/actor) are permitted to leave the house to exercise, preferably once a day. People who have dogs are lucky because they have real face to face conversations with other dog walkers from OUTSIDE of their household.
In some nations, like where my friend @uhuru_b lives (whose neighbour’s dog is pictured in this photo collection) dog walkers are not allowed to take their dogs beyond their yards. I don’t have a dog to walk because I don’t want a pet. I’m fine with that.
In London, the dogs in parks are often not on leads because their walkers want to stand still and chat with external (non household) humans at the permitted distance of two metres. Their dogs are going wild, really wild, and their play becomes more boisterous and violent.
The dogs don’t know there’s a pandemic. They’re playfighting, slobbering over each other, rolling around. This looks quite fun right now. I wish I could do that. This thought surprises me a bit. It comes out of nowhere. What’s happening to me?
The dogs are nipping, boxing, chewing and increasingly biting and slapping each other. I wonder whether one of the owners might step in to break it up. But that risks another owner from another household stepping forward at the same time to pull their dog back. They risk narrowing the gap between themselves and so ‘breaking the rules’ of lockdown, whilst trying to save their irritable and socially inept dogs.
One owner breaks ranks and steps away from his permitted human companion, and tries to control his big, daft dog who is overpowering a small dog, who is getting really irritated and trying to headbutt the big dog. That all sounds quite bad now I write it down in instagram, but it is the usual canine messing around – with a bit of edge. It’s just that people don’t move in as fast as usual, in order to break it up. No one else moves or screams or gets in a flap, that’s how I know that it is going to be okay in the end. It’s going to be okay, isn’t it. Isn’t it? “I don’t know,” my permitted human household companion says. “Probably”.
The other dog owners hang back, as one man tries to pull his dog away from the fighty small dog. We’re all just watching a load of accidental dog fighting on a lovely spring day.
And I think, clearly, the transgressive, anarchic, fighty dogs are a sublimation of their owners’ desires, and perhaps also my own desires. Our impotent rage against the virus and politicians or of our sanctimonious/fearful curtain twitching judgment of others. It’s like something out of a JG Ballard book, I tell myself.
I leave the park with my essential permitted, key, house member companion. He was not interested in the dog fight situation, but I feel sure that it is the beginning of a very sophisticated and impressive comparison between Ballardian social and environmental conditions and precariat urban consumer society in the age of corona.
Like so many of my thoughts at this so called, “strange” time, I don’t have time to finish it or interrogate it for very long. My attention is soon urgently diverted by trying to blow a stray lock of hair out of my camo print facemask, as it repeatedly affixes itself back into my mouth on the way home past the heroically open for business tesco express.
I decide that it is quite enough right now at this time of Corona, just to have an actual culturally referencing thought in my own mind. Well done me.
It is enough to tell myself that a walk in the park filled with dog walkers and their semi-wild dogs, is like something out of a JG Ballard novel. I bung the unfinished thought onto a crumpled pile of discarded thoughts in my head. I go home to my childless, dog-less one bedroom flat, and get on with my video meetings and typing into a laptop. To focus, I turn the noise of the world off by lifting the headpiece from the side of my head. And now I hear nothing at all, not the rain outside, not the melancholic washing machine, not the strident, telephone conference negotiation coming from my essential companion two metres away at the other table. Nothing.
I hope you enjoyed this shaggy dog story. The end. X
FOOTNOTE: The Collins English Dictionary now carries a definition for ‘Ballardian’:
(adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.
In sociology and economics, the precariat (/prɪˈkɛəriət/) is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. The term is a portmanteau obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.
Thank you to my friends who sent me their dog photos featured in this selection. None of these dogs were involved in the dog-fight described above.